Fears standards will suffer as thousands of extra NZ apprentices trained
Keeping standards high is a challenge in the rush to train construction apprentices, reports Amanda Cropp.
More than 29,000 construction workers need to be recruited over the next three years without compromising standards, building chiefs said this week.
How to deal with the labour shortage in the face of a building boom will be high on the agenda of a cross-industry forum in Christchurch later this year.
The Building Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO) currently supervises 9000 apprentices training for 15 trades qualifications, and it estimates a least another 3000 are needed to meet demand.
Registered Master Builders Association chief executive David Kelly said the upcoming forum was a first, and had the support of professional bodies representing builders, architects, engineers, building owners and EQC.
"There's no easy answer to the skills shortage because it happens every few years, we'll have a boom then we have a slow down and people leaving the industry may not come back."
Kelly said the industry might have to consider different types of apprenticeships including training in prefabricated building techniques.
He said: "It's about being able to get quality in quantity."
But Christchurch builder Trevor Hone fears attempts to "mass produce" training will undermine standards.
The former London currency trader has spent 20 years in the building industry and his company employs 14 staff, including five apprentices.
Hone said it was assumed builders had teaching skills, but "that's not a given in many cases," and rushing training risked turning out workers who lacked the breadth and depth of experience required.
"We're going to dilute our talent pool rather than enhance it. The honest truth is there's not a quick fix, that's the problem."
"We need a second qualification that takes you to the 'full monty' as a builder, running jobs and managing people."
One of Hone's apprentices, Josh Scott, 27, who is already a qualified boat builder, said he felt apprentices needed more block courses at polytechs or at night school, rather than relying on home study.
Ben Ingledew, 43, a former teacher, is almost through his apprenticeship. He'd like to see more value for the $750 annual fee he pays the BCITO whose training advisors visit every few months and supervise about 80 apprentices each on average.
He said: "It should take four or five years to complete your apprenticeship. I know chaps who after four or five years are only 40 per cent through because of the lack of opportunities they've had. People have told me that all they got to do was tie steel all day.
"We need to make sure apprentices are being trained and not just used as cheap labour."
BCITO chief executive Ruma Karaitiana defended the standard of today's apprentices saying they were "a damn sight better" than those trained 20 or 30 years ago. "They have to do everything and they get assessed on the job task by task."
He said construction businesses traditionally employed five to 10 staff. "They go job by job and are not strategic thinkers. Their natural inclination is to leave it for a little while and see how it goes before they replace them."
Auckland builder Ross Faulkner, is planning to up his apprentice numbers from six to nine, and believes the increased use of "labour only" building contracts has affected training.
"It depends on the owner of the labour-only gang and his ethics. Does he want to give something back to the industry or is he just there solely for the money?
"They've got to get the house finished in six, eight or 10 weeks and it's all about speed. They don't have the time to put into training apprentices and a lot don't take them on."
The Department of Trades at the Ara Institute of Canterbury (formerly Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology) is working with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) on a trial project bringing up to 24 carpenters workers from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga to work on the Christchurch rebuild.
Acting head of department Dennis Taylor said they would be placed with local companies to work towards a formal New Zealand qualification with the aim of eventually returning home to contribute to their own industry.
He said the his department had just over 2000 students, but buoyant employment market made it harder to attract local trainees.