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Fixing New Zealand’s Tradespeople Shortage

Published May 07, 2018 (last updated December 2, 2020) -

Skill shortages across the industry

Something as big as an entire industry shortage is not going to be solved in a week. However, there are things you can do as employers to help fix New Zealand’s shortage of tradespeople and builders.

It’s predicted that NZ needs more than 50,000 construction workers by 2022 to keep up with demands of a growing nation, but where are they meant to come from? Trainees are out there, but they are still hard at work learning the skills needed to enter the workforce. Last year, the Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO) saw 11,500 trainees and about 2,500 apprentices qualify through their testing scheme.

Where the challenge is to fill that 50,000-worker gap is that apprentices can’t train without employment, but businesses appear to be increasingly reluctant to take on trainees. Employers are the teachers when it comes to tradespeople and the trades industry. And yet, two thirds of tradies are self-employed in New Zealand. And of the 60,000 construction firms around the country, almost 90% of them had five staff or less.

Why are employers reluctant to take on trainees and apprentices?

Fewer than 20% of trade businesses are taking on apprentices – it can seem like a financial risk to a small business; however, the cost isn’t as high as you might think. For the first year or two it might only cost a business about $3,000 to train an apprentice.

It’s important to look at the long term. Apprentices may cost money during the first couple of years. But they are key to growing your business. Training future tradespeople can create loyal workers, build your reputation as a business and build your personal brand as someone who is investing in the future of the industry (which can lead to better public profile and more incoming business).

The mistakes an apprentice makes can be costly – trainees and apprentices coming into the trade are still learning the ropes, it’s not uncommon for them to make mistakes as they learn.  Plus, a qualified tradie is required to oversee the apprentice, which can take up the time of an employee who could be more productive working on-site.

However, with the right policies and procedures in place, as well as clear training guidelines and guidance for the apprentice, those mistakes should be rare if not avoidable. And rather than having a burden or distraction on-site, you have an extra set of hands, eyes and ears (particularly when it comes to HSW issues).

Filling the gap

The demand for construction and trade jobs is expected to rise 11% between 2016 and 2022. But due to factors like the financial crisis in 2008, there has been a slump in individuals joining the industry.

One of the priorities of the current NZ government is to address the shortage of skilled construction workers. An action plan is currently being developed by government agencies, key stakeholders and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

In December 2017, seven construction-related occupations were added to the immediate skills shortage list. The immigration system will support employers to get the people they need in the short term, but this is only a Band-Aid to an ongoing industry issue.

What employers can do now

  • Step outside your comfort zone. Historically trades have been male dominated industries. However, there are more and more women entering training, but hitting roadblocks when it comes to finding employment and apprenticeships.
  • Become a mentor. Taking on apprentices is not just a business decision. You’re contributing to the growth and sustainability of a local industry, creating a legacy and establishing a reputation for future industry mentors to refer to
  • Get involved from the start. Speak with local trade schools about how you can become involved in the education and placement of students. Making contact with potential apprentices from the start can make an impact on their career path and who they choose to apply to for their apprenticeship.

For more advice on how to manage your apprentices, contact Employsure on 0800 568 012.

About Employsure

Employsure is one of New Zealand’s largest workplace relations advisers to small and medium businesses, with over 5,500 clients. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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