Trades training at all-time high

HANDS ON: Apprentice Trevor Mackie, left, who works for RA Hale, and Donald Bisphan, managing director of the joinery ...

HANDS ON: Apprentice Trevor Mackie, left, who works for RA Hale, and Donald Bisphan, managing director of the joinery business. Mackie learned of the apprenticeship opportunity at school.

Christchurch's rebuild has helped create a boom number of 5000 new apprentices for the construction industry in 2014.

The Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO) says the all-time record reflects a higher total of apprentices taken on by employers with fuller order books.

There were now about 9300 apprentices in employment, with that number likely to peak around 10,500 next year, BCITO chief executive Ruma Karaitiana said.

Apprenticeships in carpentry, plastering and painting and decorating last up to three-and-a-half and four years.

Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said Christchurch would now experience a sustained rebuild at a peak level, witha continued labour demand.

"Anyone who wants a job out there can get it. There's still plenty of work and that's going to continue right through 2015, in fact we are predicting labour conditions are going to get even tighter," he said.

"All of the major companies involved in the Christchurch rebuild are full [with work], there's a lot of smaller companies that have still got capacity but they're tightening up quite quickly . . . we're spending $100 million a week on the rebuild."

Wellington-based Karaitiana said the 5000 signings were part of BCITO's commitment to maintain momentum to meet the skills demand in the sector.

While employers oversaw the apprentices, so too did 140 nationwide BCITO managers who visited each apprentice and employer five to seven times each year to keep them on track with learning.

The previous record for apprentices was 4000 in 2013. Before the highest number had been 3800 in 2007. Numbers would probably decline to between 4000 and 5000 next year.

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Apprentice Trevor Mackie joined Christchurch joinery firm RA Hale 1997 Ltd having learnt of the chance through his school, Hagley Community College.

"I've always enjoyed working hands on, creating something and working out complicated and intricate details of a project from start to finish," Mackie said.

"Joinery lets me do both."

Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology chief executive Kay Giles said about 200 trained in construction at CPIT each year, and some of those were apprentices.

"There's huge demand for people in the construction sector, literally all sectors at the moment," Giles said.

Eventually workers would extend their careers in areas like agribusiness, irrigation and food manufacturing.

"Prior to this boom there was actually an underlying skills shortage," Giles said.

Overall the polytechnic was seeing "really healthy" demand for its courses next year. Roughly 50 per cent of CPIT's students were aged over 25, including many women.

"We've got four times the number of women in the trades than we did before the earthquake. And in Maori and Pacifica, the participation rates there [are higher]," Giles said.

Townsend said the real trick ahead would be making sure that those employed in the rebuild transferred to other sectors as the work was completed.

"I'm talking about how we apply technology to our natural capital, everything from robotic milking right through to irrigation systems, new crops, new products new ways of growing things . . . and all the effort that's going to be required to put that in place," he said.

"That's going to be involving a lot of people and a tremendous lot of skill."

 - The Press

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