BCITO training adviser Peter Van der Veen and carpenter Jamie McAnulty, who completed his apprenticeship with Dawes Construction in Masterton. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

‘Huge push’ for new workers
Better school-industry link needed

ARTHUR HAWKES
arthur.hawkes@age.co.nz

It’s never been a better time to be a construction apprentice in Wairarapa, a new survey has found.

The data, compiled by consultancy firm Henley Hutchings, showed that Wairarapa was facing a shortage in construction industry jobs, with 41 respondents [all leading construction employers in Wairarapa] answering questions about the sector.

The data showed that Wairarapa’s building boom needed a complementary employment boom, to meet the demand for skilled construction staff.

More than 51 per cent needed more workers in the future, with about 40 per cent saying they thought the number of roles would stay at the same level [which was still high].

A third of employers had already been experiencing shortages in unskilled labour, pre-lockdown.

While this demonstrated a clear need for more workers, just under half the employers had no contact with schools and training providers whatsoever, which was an area of concern for the Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation, which works with the government on apprenticeships.

Peter Van der Veen, local training adviser for BCITO, said there were about 230 Wairarapa apprentices, at all stages of their training.

“We’re trying to encourage some of the young lads and lasses into a trade apprenticeship rather than going to university and getting something like a Bachelor of Arts, and then getting into debt.”

Van der Veen’s view was also backed up by the study, which showed two-thirds of employers would consider taking on an apprentice right away.

“I’ve also noticed that building has been steadily high, output has been steadily high, and that employers are always looking for Wairarapa workers.”

Van der Veen was concerned that the Wairarapa’s community ethos occasionally worked against individuals less connected to that community.

“Sometimes, around here, it’s more a case of who you know, not what you know.”

The study concluded that in Wairarapa there was a “widely held view that there should be more direct engagement between employers and schools to showcase the opportunities the trades can offer”.

Paul Southey was one such person who built his reputation and skills from working in the trades — he’s now president of the Wairarapa Master Builders Association.

“We want to reach out to the colleges and build a better relationship between the industry and the schools.

“With the construction industry going so well, there’s a huge push at the moment for new workers.

“We’re quite lucky in that we’ve got Wellington over there, and people are wanting to come and live in Wairarapa.”

Southey said Wairarapa construction had kept afloat post-lockdown, due to the high building demand.

“We haven’t been affected as much as other regions, and it means, for younger people, that we’re really just looking for people to get on and complete these courses.”

In response to these shortages, also seen on a national level, the government developed the Apprenticeship Boost scheme, which was launched on Wednesday by Education Minister Chris Hipkins.

This would allow businesses up to $16,000 to take on or retain their apprentices, paid out over the first two years of training.

“Without initiatives like Apprenticeship Boost, we risk losing our apprentices and facing a massive skills shortage on the other side of the pandemic, like we did after the Global Financial Crisis,” Hipkins said.

“Investing in our people is the focus of the government’s five-point plan for the economy as New Zealand rebuilds.”