Govt urged to extend apprenticeship scheme

Farra Engineering chief executive Gareth Evans stands in the company’s workshop. PHOTO: LINDA...
Farra Engineering chief executive Gareth Evans stands in the company’s workshop. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
Otago and Southland’s manufacturing sector is urging the Government to extend an apprenticeship scheme to help ease a "chronic" labour shortage.

In August 2020, the Government set up the Apprenticeship Boost Fund, aimed at supporting businesses to employ and retain apprentices who would eventually help in New Zealand’s Covid-19 economic recovery.

Under the scheme, which initially had $380million committed to it, employers received $1000 a month per apprentice for the first 12 months and $500 a month for the second year.

It was due to finish at the start of this month and was extended to August with a boost to $427million in funding.

Figures released under the Official Information Act found only $307million had so far been spent.

Given there was still money available and the lifeline it was creating for businesses, the scheme should be extended beyond August as well, Southland and Otago Regional Engineering Collective chairman Gareth Evans said.

Mr Evans, who is also chief executive of Dunedin’s Farra Engineering, said it meant the firm had not had to make tough decisions about laying off apprentices.

Instead, it had been able to extend its apprentice numbers from eight to 11.

While the scheme did not "change the whole world" it helped businesses to expand their capacity, he said.

"We’ve finally got a scheme that brings apprentices in and it seems like madness to stop it," he said.

In the long term, the scheme benefited the whole sector not just individual businesses because it created work-ready staff.

"We have a lot of infrastructure projects starting here but we don’t have anyone to build them," Mr Evans said.

JK’s Engineering manager Dwight Dougherty said the scheme took away the financial risk of taking on an apprentice.

He had previously taken on some apprentices who had pulled out or left the trade as they had decided it was not for them.

"A lot of the time they are kids just out of school not 100% sure this is the trade for them," he said.

The scheme had also helped secure extra tutoring for apprentices who struggled with paperwork, Mr Dougherty said.

United Machinists chief executive Sarah Ramsay said the scheme was a "big incentive" for the engineering firm to take on an extra apprentice.

If the scheme ended, the company would likely have to defer its next apprentice out from June to next year and only have one instead of two.

With the Covid-19 pandemic’s effects continuing to be felt through reduced staffing capacity and a lack of skilled migrants it seemed "nonsensical" to pull the scheme, Mrs Ramsay said.

When contacted, Minister of Education Chris Hipkins said the Government was looking at options to continue supporting employers and apprentices.

The Government knew the scheme was helping employers keep apprentices on, particularly during the pandemic

An update on the scheme’s future would be provided before August, Mr Hipkins said.


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