Many apprentices 'failing to finish'

More than half of Modern Apprenticeships trainees may be dropping out of the Government's flagship programme.

Government agencies cannot actually say how many are failing, as information collected by the Tertiary Education Commission does not capture completion rates.

However, at face value, figures made public suggest 46 per cent of those enrolled in 2001 and 2002 completed their training in the expected four years.

The scheme is one of Labour's pledge-card policies. More than $100 million has been committed to it since its launch in 2000.

As at December 31, 9466 active modern apprentices were in training. The Government wants 14,000 by December, 2008.

However, National Party education spokeswoman Katherine Rich said more effort needed to be put into retaining apprentices already enrolled. "It's not that hard to track students," she said. "Every other tertiary provider does it."

The cost of not doing so was too high, for the failed students and the trades industries desperately needing skilled workers.

A former Christchurch apprentice said the scheme was oversold to young people. "They say get paid while you're learning, but it's not getting you through the week. You couldn't live on it," he said. "I had to live at home."

He left his building apprenticeship two years into his training after one employer wound up his business and his next employer bullied him.

Yet the Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation warns that the numbers of people in trades are insufficient for building demands.

In June, job vacancies for builders were up 6 per cent on the same time last year, Labour Department figures show.

"We can't afford for these kids to drop out," the organisation's Central South Island regional manager Ian Alexander said. "They're critical for the country's infrastructure."

TEC director of policy advice and government services, Susan Shipley, expected more data on completion rates in a few months. The Press

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