Kiwibuild a chance to demand apprenticeship quotas

Master Electricians would like to see quotas for apprenticeships.
Master Electricians would like to see quotas for apprenticeships. Photo credit: Newshub

Master Electricians is calling on the government to insist that Kiwibuild contractors invest in training apprentices.

Chief executive Bernie McLaughlin said we need to learn from the Canterbury rebuild which used a considerable amount of unqualified labour, meaning New Zealand is still facing a skills shortage for a big job.

"We wouldn't have the issue with the skilled labour shortage now, if we'd trained people through the work that's going on in Canterbury," he said.

"I'd like to see it entrenched in the tender process that to be eligible to tender for Kiwibuild work you must have a training regime in place."

Mr McLaughlin would like to see quotas for apprenticeships, as required in Australia. Contractors on Western Australia state government projects are required to ensure 11.5% of their workforce consists of apprentices or trainees.

"A ratio of one qualified tradesperson to three apprentices should be the absolute minimum," he said

"We know that Kiwibuild will run for years.  By the time it's finished, we could potentially have solved our skilled labour issue.  It would be a shame to waste that opportunity."

How big is the problem of unqualified labour?

Mr McLaughlin said he's extremely concerned about the use of unqualified labour across the industry.

"Anecdotally, we're hearing the ratios are one qualified tradesperson to 10 unqualified, or as many as one-to-15," he said.

"You have ask, how can they be compliant with regulations when certain work has to be done by registered people?  I struggle to see how some of that work can be done legally.

"We just have to look at Canterbury and how much remediation is being done on the re-build, because there was a huge amount of unqualified labour used for all trades."

Mr McLaughlin said members of Master Electricians are concerned about a multi-storey development in Auckland where material has been purchased overseas and where labour may be brought in too.

Then there are two large construction projects in Canterbury, the Canterbury DHB Acute Services Block and the Convention Centre, which have been awarded to an Australian contractor.

"There are fears that they're going to bring in all the labour and all the materials from Australia, and that won't contribute to the local economy or GDP.  A lot of the economic benefits will be peeled away, layer by layer," he said.

The skills shortage

There currently are 3,600 electrical apprentices nationwide.

"Apprenticeships are largely self-funded, with some funding from the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC).  The apprentice has to pay around $1,500 in annual fees for the training," Mr McLaughlin said.

The most common question Master Electricians currently receives from its members is, "Where can I find a qualified tradesperson?  I can't complete the contract I have at the moment until I get some qualified tradespeople - and there aren't any."

"The options are to entice people with similar qualifications from overseas, or they train their own workers so that they have a pool of qualified people in three years time," Mr McLaughlin said.

"The job an overseas labourer can do is no different from what a first year apprentice can do.  And then you get that future value.

"You have to ask, what's the future value to our economy, the future value to New Zealand?"

This article was created for Master Electricians.

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