5 Mar 2019

Building industry fears apprentice changes could cause turmoil

6:26 pm on 5 March 2019

Building and construction firms fear proposed changes to apprentice training will cause turmoil in their industry.

Construction worker.

Employers and industry training organisations from the building sector are worried about the proposal to combine the country's 16 polytechnics into one. Photo: 123rf.com

They held a summit in Auckland today to discuss the future of work based industry training and the proposed changes put forward by the government.

It is proposing to combine the country's 16 polytechnics into a single national institute and have a single provider organising apprentices into work-based industry training.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the move would solve the sector's financial problems and make better use of taxpayer dollars.

But employers and industry training organisations are concerned.

Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation chief executive Warwick Quinn said it was crucial that changes were handled smoothly so that employers stayed engaged and took on apprentices.

"It's the relationship at the sector level with the industries and the trades that sets up the systems they want - the number of block courses, the [amount] of on job or off-job training," he said.

"That relationship seems to be the nugget that holds us all together and makes it successful and if we lose that, we're likely to be in quite big trouble."

Mr Quinn said up to 10,000 more apprentices were needed over the next five years to meet demand.

The government has previously said the sector was 30,000 workers short.

Master Painters chief executive Brian Miller said he supported radical change if it was done in the right way.

"The government seem to be taking a sword to part of the sector that is doing well to fix another part of the sector that it believes needs urgent attention," he said.

Mr Miller said the majority of those at the meeting today wanted the industry to keep control of what qualifications and training was needed.

Martin Goulden started his own building business more than 20 years ago and employs 18 people.

He said all of them, except for two, went through an apprenticeship programme run by industry organisations.

Mr Goulden said how people were trained was vital.

"If changes aren't well-considered and introduced, perhaps without the blessing of employers, [then] brakes [could] get put on the industry," he said.

"We're not at a time where we can have huge change and turmoil in the industry."

Mr Hipkins has previously said the new national polytechnic could be set up as early as 2020, but the changes it would bring to vocational training would be introduced much more slowly.

He said the sector was currently too fragmented and its proposal would make taking on apprentices more seamless for employers.

Mr Hipkins said apprentices would be well-supported through any potential changes.

Consultation on the government's proposals close late this month.

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