Change Needed in the Value of Tradies

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As industry searches for a solution to the current shortage of tradies, New Zealand's largest network of plumbers and electricians has called for a change in perception of trades as a career choice and greater support from the Government for the employers.

Laser Plumbing & Electrical General Manager, Scott Carr believes that the practice of promoting University Education as being more valuable than an apprenticeship has to be addressed and the Government needs to be a part of changing the current mindset. "There is a growing number of young people leaving University with a significant student loan and no job, yet, the school system continues to promote tertiary education as the primary option for our youth," said Scott.

"At the same time, those bucking the trend and taking on an apprenticeship are being paid to learn on the job, and after 3 to 4 years, have a qualification in a buoyant market."

"The current skills shortage is seeing pressure placed on training organisations to increase the numbers of apprentices in the system but, support from the Government to promote the trades as a worthwhile option is lacking as is the Government support for the small businesses hiring apprentices."

"Government also needs to identify ways to support the many small businesses that hire the apprentices and teach them the trades, ensuring the industry continues to grow into the future."

Laser Electrical Auckland Central's Terry Bluck agrees. "Training institutes collect the students fees and gain funding and subsidies from the Government, yet it is the employer who wears the brunt of the cost in managing and training an apprentice." For many businesses, it is not until the third or fourth year of the apprenticeship that the employee starts to cover their costs and offer a return on the investment.

Having trained in excess of 25 apprentices through his business, Terry also wants to see a change in the attitudes towards tradies. "We need a society where tradesmen are appreciated and valued rather than being set up in tv programmes like 'Target'. Like any industry, you may find a bad egg, but, where are all the good stories?

Media also plays a role in changing societal perceptions. These stories lead to kids being steered away from a trade as a career choice, not considering that, as well as becoming a qualified plumber or electrician, the apprentice could ultimately end up owning their own business and being a leader in their industry" argued Terry.

While New Zealand has seen an increase in apprenticeship numbers to 42,000, there is still a significant shortage with a recent article estimating an additional 2000 plumbers alone were required to keep up with the current construction boom. Owner of Laser Plumbing Grey Lynn, Sarah Bowie is focussed on creating her own solutions to the employment shortage, ensuring her customers continue to receive the high level of service they are used to.

"Our focus around recruitment has changed and now we look for the right attitude. We know plumbing is not a sexy industry but it is an important one that is undervalued. Recent experience is showing us that adult apprentices are more diligent on the job and motivated to learn. They have generally taken a pay cut to take on the apprenticeship and so want their investment to pay off. They see it as a career, not just a job."

Like Scott and Terry, Sarah would like to see the perceptions of trades as a career change but, also acknowledges the bottleneck which is the cost.

"As well as the costs associated with the training, there are the additional costs including of having the apprentice fully supervised for the first year. The risk of another business poaching your apprentice also increases by the time they reach their third or fourth year with many companies not willing to take on the cost of training someone from scratch. For many small businesses, the overheads and risk add up and prove too costly."

Scott added, "now, more than ever, it's time for our Government to engage with trades businesses and work with them to ensure that the shortage does not grow. These businesses are training our tradies of tomorrow and should be supported."