Polytech building apprentice pool

Otago Polytechnic ITAB co-ordinator Matt Thompson is flanked by Regan Jefferson (16, left) and...
Otago Polytechnic ITAB co-ordinator Matt Thompson is flanked by Regan Jefferson (16, left) and Liam Madigan (19). The pair are two of 16 pre-trade students building houses to be sold or auctioned for charity in Dunedin. Photo: Gregor Richardson
New Zealands housing crisis is being compounded by a number of issues, not least  a dire shortage of apprentices and qualified trades workers  available in the overall construction sector.

Otago Polytechnic is hoping to offset the tradesmen  shortage, having opened  enrolments for a four-year building apprenticeships management programme, with a January start date.

The polytechnic is also considering taking the programme to Central Otago, given the numbers of builders working there at present.

Analysts have speculated the construction sector could be short by up to 10,000 people during the next five or more years, with estimates the national housing shortfall nationally could be as high as 60,000. While the housing crunch is most evident in Auckland and upcoming commercial and infrastructure work in Christchurch is still being measured in billions of dollars, Dunedin and wider Otago are not immune.

Massive Central Otago subdivision projects are still to begin, the University of Otago has a large portfolio of projects under way and in the pipeline and the Dunedin Hospital rebuild will  add further pressure to the market.

With political parties pre- and post-election talking up the need for the construction of tens of thousands of houses and huge commercial projects under way, the sector is overwhelmed. The Industry Training Association Building (ITAB) is an apprenticeship scheme founded by New Zealand Certified Builders to boost industry standards and provide high quality training.

ITAB offers about 8000 hours of solid theoretical training plus extensive practical experience over a four year period.Otago Polytechnic ITAB co-ordinator Matt Thompson said while working with Invercargill’s SIT there were about 30-40 people enrolled, but that had swelled to around 120 ITAB enrollees, prompting Otago Polytechnic to offer the course directly next year.

The industry is so short of apprentices, the polytech offers one day a week introductory programmes to high schools, then the year-long pre-trade  programme, followed up by the ITAB management during their apprenticeships.

Although the ITAB fees are $600 per year, Mr Thompson said that could change with the new Government talking about  free first-year fees.

The ITAB programme could be expanded into Central Otago.

"We’re currently seeking feedback from Central Otago builders who may want block courses to be run from our Central Otago campus," he said.

He acknowledged there was work aplenty coming up around Otago, both in residential, commercial and infrastructure projects.

"Certainly the university is spending a lot on construction in Dunedin," Mr Thompson said.

Post-apprenticeship, builders can expect to  start on

about  $24 per hour.To further promote trades training, the NZCB and ITAB run the Building Professionals Programme, supported by trade partners, to help overcome one barrier to trade training, which is the costs of resources and tools  apprentices need.

In seeking to encourage people into trades, an apprentice survey found an "overwhelming" need for assistance for tools and equipment.

Under the Building Professionals Programme, every first-year apprentice enrolling in ITAB carpentry training gets free tools, a subscription to the NZCB, insurance deals, and discounts from suppliers.

Mr Thompson said there was a move afoot to possibly help  second-year apprentices in the same way.

During 2017, more than 350 toolkits were  provided to new apprentices, fuelling the uptake of ITAB apprentice training.

NZCB/ITAB business development manager Nick Matthews said there was no limit to the number of enrolments in the ITAB course.

"The great thing about the ITAB course at Otago Polytechnic is they have great staffing resources and facilities to accommodate high numbers of students, while still retaining a personalised service," he said.

He said potential apprentices could start working for an employer at any time, and once an offer of formal apprenticeship was  made, they were eligible to enrol in the ITAB course at Otago Polytechnic. The ITAB scheme ensured the apprentices were taught and assessed by professionals, giving them a wide range of skills  employers can rely on.

"As the course involves significant practical skills development and on-site assessment, the apprentice needs to have an apprenticeship secured before enrolling in the ITAB course," Mr Matthews said.

While apprentices source their own employer, Mr Matthews said NZCB actively encouraged its member builders to take on apprentices, fostering the pipeline of high quality, qualified builders.

"NZCB members tend to be small to medium-sized building firms that offer a full spectrum of residential and light commercial building services, so their apprentices develop a well-rounded skill set," he said.

In the larger building firms apprentices could specialise in one aspect of building services, such as framing, Mr Matthews said.

simon.hartley@odt.co.nz

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