An organisation representing panelbeaters fears the sector could suffer under the government's proposed reform of polytechnics.
Collision Repair Association general manager Neil Pritchard said the association represents hundreds of panel beaters from around New Zealand.
The proposal to roll back the Motor Industry Training Organisations' influence over qualifications, such as the one for panelbeating, would leave students lacking relevant training, he said.
"Under the current model, our industry is effectively represented by expert member volunteers on various review committees, which review new vehicle trends," Mr Pritchard said.
"This ensures we drive appropriate changes to the qualification and training.
"Under the government's proposal, industry training organisations, such as the Motor Industry Training Organisation, would be removed, leaving a gaping knowledge and relationship hole that we have little faith can be readily filled."
The impact of removing the industry from the training process would be widespread and immediately disruptive to businesses, he said.
"As an industry under immense pressure from a skills shortage, we need work-ready young people and we simply cannot afford to put the training standards at risk."
Uncertainty caused by the reform of vocational education could see employers turning to immigrant labour, rather than training apprentices, Mr Pritchard said.
"What we would like to see is the preservation of the industry training organisations, which are already working effectively towards reducing the skills shortage.
"This will ensure we can continue to maintain quality standards and decrease the need to use foreign skilled labour," he said.
The government has proposed merging all 16 polytechnics into a single national institute and radically reforming industry training organisations.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins said changes were necessary to shore up a sector that had suffered falling enrolments and multi-million dollar deficits.
Mr Hipkins said tertiary institutions would take over organising and providing work-based industry training.
"Providers would take responsibility for approximately 140,000 trainees and apprentices in addition to the approximately 110,000 vocational education learners they already serve (based on 2017 figures)," a Cabinet paper said.
"This would require increased capability and capacity.
"This change will promote better alignment between on and off job education and training, and stabilise provision of vocational education across the economic cycle."
The paper said industry training organisations (ITOs) might respond negatively to the proposals, but they included a significantly increased leadership role for industry.
Mr Hipkins said the proposals were about giving industry more say in education and training, not less.