'Dire need' for 5000 more apprentices

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 05:00 25/03/2014

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New Zealand's construction industry is in "dire need" of another 5000 apprentices as it struggles to meet the demand for new housing in Auckland and Christchurch, an industry training group says.

About 3230 new apprentices signed up to the Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO) across the country last year - up 55 per cent on the year before.

However, the industry was still "woefully short" of the workers it needed to meet demand, BCITO chief executive Ruma Karaitiana said.

"In Christchurch, people can't cope with living in damaged homes for another year. In Auckland, the housing shortage is now so acute that starting the build is vital."

The number of new apprentices in the top half of the South Island, including Christchurch, had risen about 135 per cent in the last few years - up from 529 in 2011 to 1247 last year, but it was still not enough. Karaitiana said the sheer magnitude of the work ahead meant another 5000 apprentices were urgently needed across New Zealand.

"We're getting more and more employers ringing up every day. Any good applicants that we get are being snapped up straight away."

Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT) chief executive Kay Giles said the number of employers taking on apprentices had increased, but Canterbury's rebuild was still warming up. "We've actually had bigger numbers than we've ever had before, but I would have to say there's probably still going to be more demand."

The earthquake rebuild was only "10 or 12 per cent" complete, she said, "so we're going to need a lot more labour as we go on and we can't wait until we need the labour to train".

Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Minister Steven Joyce said all options would need to be used to meet the demand for construction workers, including apprenticeships and bringing in more skilled workers from overseas.

"We're not relying on apprentices to fill all that load," he said.

"I think it's good that they're looking to sign up more apprentices, because we do need more.

"Maybe not [5000], but certainly we need more."

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment had a long list of in-demand jobs on its Canterbury skills shortage list.

Most of the occupations listed as being in demand for the region's rebuild were construction-based, including project managers, civil engineers, building inspectors, quantity surveyors and the building trades.

More people were also returning to the construction industry after time away, and the country was seeing a "big increase" in the number of Kiwis returning from Australia.

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- The Press

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