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Trades trainees difficult to find

Many apprentices fail at the first hurdle due to unsatisfactory numerical, mechanical and verbal skills. PHOTO/PEXELS.COM

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New Zealand’s largest electrical apprenticeship provider estimates 3000 more apprentice electricians are needed each year in New Zealand to keep up with demand.

But Electrical Training Company [Etco] Wellington region apprenticeship co-ordinator Dave Newton said he’s only looking at employing from three to five this year from Wairarapa.

The biggest problem was finding suitable applicants.

Etco chief executive Jeremy Sole said it wasn’t always easy to find enough people with Level 2 NCEA credits in fundamental skills.

“We have local host companies crying out for apprentices,” he said. “If we could identify 10, 15 or more potential apprentices with the school qualifications and aptitude we’re looking for from Wairarapa secondary schools then we’d definitely be able to place them with local companies or in nearby centres such as Palmerston North or Wellington.”

Many apprentices failed at the first hurdle, not passing aptitude tests of their numerical, mechanical, and verbal skills.

Newton said this was largely a struggle to convince potential apprentices that a career path in the trades was a viable option, but Sole said it’s more complex than that.

“It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation.

“If we have apprentices in our programme, we know host companies will put their hand up to take them because that enables them to grow their business in a low-risk and highly efficient way.

“And if parents, whanau and caregivers know there are employers waiting, then that helps them to better appreciate that university isn’t the only option for bright students.”

Sole pointed to a numbers-boosting programme at one school which Etco was now in discussion with the Ministry of Education about rolling out further.

“In Auckland we’ve partnered with Manurewa High School to launch a programme where Year 12 pupils get a huge head start by spending three days each school week training at our Auckland facility, and then two days back in a school classroom. “

But some people successful in other trades were put off by the conditions of an Etco apprenticeship.

A tradesman in his 30s looking to retrain said Etco told him he would be paid $14 an hour as an apprentice electrician.

Newton said starting on a training wage was normal, and their apprentice wage was the same regardless of background.

“Even if you’re a builder and have a background, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re any better than a person just starting out from school.”

He said training wages increased yearly, and electricians could expect their wages to pick up once they’d completed apprenticeships.

He contrasted working in a trade with the experience of university students.

“You’re taking a student loan, and at the end of three years, if you get your degree, you get a job, but you’ve got this massive debt.

“At least at the end of your three-and-a-half-year apprenticeship, you come out and you’ll be earning a comparable, if not higher, wage than what you would’ve been from coming out of university.

“But you’ve been paid while you’ve been doing all that learning and getting that qualification.”

Etco said New Zealand management consultancy firm Scarlatti found 28-year-olds who completed apprenticeships will have earned $165,000 more than BA, BCom and BSc graduates.

An Etco spokesperson said electrical apprentices were significantly more likely to complete their apprenticeships on time than those training with other organisations, so started earning higher salaries earlier than their peers.

“That figure may well be higher for our apprentices,” they said.

Newton said it’s not just electrical apprenticeships that are becoming harder to fill.

“Getting people in the trades is getting harder and harder, and it’s about highlighting to people how good a trade can be for your career.”

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