Whanganui vocational study providers and employers say the Government's $1.6 billion pledge to trades and apprenticeship training is a "golden opportunity".
In Budget 2020, $1.6 billion was invested in the Trade and Apprenticeships Training Package in response to the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Of that, $320 million has been invested in support for free trades training in "critical industries" for the next two years. There's a further $32.3 million to meet demand in trades academies and to increase the number of trades academy places in secondary schools by 1000 from 2021.
This will include courses linked to industry skills needs in building and construction, agriculture, and manufacturing, and also vocational courses like community health, counselling and care work.
Free trade training will be available from July 1, with local education providers excited about the opportunities available for those who want to do vocational studies.
UCOL has assembled a team to examine the details behind the government's package, and to work with industries, employers and government agencies in Whanganui, Manawatū, Horowhenua and Wairarapa to identify employment and training gaps and opportunities.
UCOL's construction and engineering head of school Lindsay Tamblyn said the package is a golden opportunity to study trade programmes.
"It's a really, really positive move to announce this package. Great opportunity for anyone interested in their chosen trade."
Tamblyn said it was a great incentive for employers to bring on apprentices.
"For people looking for new jobs and skills, it makes it easier to access with the free training for two years."
UCOL provides pre-trade programmes, apprentice block course and night classes, and will support employers and trainees through the process.
UCOL will have a trades open day at the Palmerston North campus on July 3.
Primary ITO chief executive Nigel Philpott said the announcement is a great opportunity to attract promising learners into farming, horticulture and the wider food and fibre industries.
Philpott said Primary ITO is the largest trades academy in New Zealand but he knows more schools and students want to take part.
Creating pathways for people into the sector is important, Philpott said.
"Paying for training is one part of the package. For a long time, our industries have been crying out for skilled people, and we believe that the cost of training has been a barrier."
This year 90 secondary schools are taking part in Primary ITO's trades academy.
Alongside the trades academy funding, the Government has announced free fees for apprenticeships and industry training across the primary sector, as well as food and fibre processing.
Whanganui High School is one of the secondary schools in the trades academy.
School employment co-ordinator Jill Gregory said she has "always been absolutely passionate" about promoting the trades.
"I feel quite strongly that schools have been far too focused on pushing out university students," Gregory said.
Since the Government's announcement, two students have already been offered apprenticeships, she said.
"I've got about 60 students who go out and do work experience during the week.
"I'm hoping that it might push a few more employers into offering our students apprenticeships."
Gregory said the package will give employers more incentive to give students a chance as they won't have to pay for their training.
Whanganui-based Beaver Tree Services owner Bryce Robb said by making trades training free, they have even more incentive to take on and train apprentices.
"We really struggle to get good, qualified arborists. The future of our business really is in apprentices and in taking on young guys that are keen to work and become arborists.
"To me that's just a no brainer for us now. We are going to go into deeper, bigger and just employ more people and commit more to apprentices."
With two of his Whanganui apprentices about to sign off, Robb knows how crucial they are for the industry's future.
"If it wasn't for apprentices we wouldn't have a business in Whanganui."