13 Jan 2017

New pilot scheme for apprentice builders planned

10:19 am on 13 January 2017

The building industry is set to trial a more flexible way of training apprentices in an effort to fill the growing gap in skilled workers.

Silhouette of a construction worker.

Silhouette of a construction worker. Photo: Copyright: 06photo / 123RF Stock Photo

The Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO) has been given the go-ahead by the Tertiary Education Commission and NZQA to research and pilot a hop-on, hop-off approach to training this year.

The government estimates an extra 49,000 construction workers will be needed between 2015 and 2021 to handle the building boom.

But the Tertiary Education Commission said qualifications like carpentry are not always fit-for-purpose, as work is increasingly subcontracted out and specialised in regions such as Auckland.

BCITO plans to launch a pilot later this year where certain skills and experience gained on the job will be formally recognised.

Its head, Warwick Quinn, said these could then be credited towards a full qualification.

"For example they might have completed 50 percent of a full qualification and that can be recognised through a badge or a certificate or something of that nature on the [NZQA] framework. And then if they change jobs three or four years down the track; they may get another role or the firm they're with expands into other parts of construction, they can hop back on the framework and maybe potentially complete their qualification over a longer period of time then they would other be able to."

He said despite record level of apprentices, already more needs to be done to attract them.

"We've got fewer school leavers over the next five or six years as a percentage of the population than we've ever had before, obviously an increasing workload and a greater level of competition for those from all over New Zealand - from universities, employers, and other trades, so to be more flexible in our offering that better matches employer needs I think will hopefully give us a bigger pool in which to fish.

Industry leaders say companies are struggling to find local skilled workers and are going overseas for labour.

Medium-sized commercial building company Stanley Group supplements its workforce with Philippinos.

Its general manager, Kevin Stanley, said the flexible approach is a good step towards ensuring skill needs are met.

He said with the boom-bust nature of the industry, the up-to five year task of training an apprentice means employers do not have the confidence they will need the worker later on.

"So the boom-bust cycle means when things get into the boom people do a little bit of training but they tend to focus on trying to get their work done with the expectation that in a few years time we'll be in a bust cycle again and so we won't need these people. Being able to break some of those things down I think will be encouraging and because we can train people quicker and get more circulation of staff I think that will be an incentive for employers to take on more trainees.

He said the industry is far more technical and apprenticeships are far more difficult that 20 or 30 years ago.

"It can often be quite daunting for some of our trainees, so to be able to break this down into smaller packages I think will actually make it a lot more attractive for young people to come into the industry."

The head of leading construction company Hawkins and chair of the industry's Strategy Group, Geoff Hunt, said the idea of stackable credentials has been on the radar for awhile.

He said they found some skills like operating a digger didn't have a qualification so highly skilled people could not prove they were, and employers had to individually assess each time they went to hire.

"There's no real training pathway for someone to enter the industry, other than through a large employer, unless it's through one of the multi-year qualification, so there's no real training pathway and yet there's a skill range that's absolutely vital to the productivity, safe working practice of the industry.

"It deals with the gap for the more practical skills. It's about recognising skills rather than qualifications and over time building up your register if you like of all your skills," Mr Hunt said.

BCITO said it was still in the early stages with research into what the industry needs in the pilot, how it will look, and how it will be funded to be done early this year with the pilot expected to start by the the middle of the year.

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