Free training, COVID-19 job losses changing who begins apprenticeships

The Government has been promoting trades training to upskill the population and produce enough workers for the post-COVID-19 rebuild.

Usually, that means younger people who are just starting out in life beginning apprenticeships, but the combination of free training and pandemic job losses means that those who are retraining may no longer be who you would expect.

One new roofing graduate is Neil McCormack, who is about to turn 68 years old.

"It's not too bad, still run rings around these guys," he says.

McCormack completed his roofing qualification in September after the boss gave him the hard word.

"I said to him one day, 'Neil, if you still want to have a job you gotta get a national certificate', he said, 'I am too old to get a qualification' and I said, 'no you are not'," Keith Ivey of CS Roofing says.

McCormack says a lot has changed compared to when he first used to roof.

"Got scaffolding, and everything is health and safety and all that now. Way back when I first started there was no such thing as that."

He reflects a trend in mature workers looking to retrain.

Manukau Institute of Technology is one of New Zealand's biggest trades trainers. Applications to study there next year are up 205 percent, and the number from over 25-year-olds is up 414 percent.

"You've got people who have lost their jobs due to the downturn in, like, hospitality and other areas, so they are coming in," Paul Hollings of Manukau Institute of Technology says.

And those job losses in hospitality and retail have hit female workers the hardest, with 19,000 more unemployed since March. They're being encouraged to retrain for free in industries traditionally dominated by men.

"In total, the number of women in apprenticeships has trebled in the four to five years we have been looking at it and promoting it," CEO Garry Fissenden says.

Free training, COVID-19 job losses changing who begins apprenticeships
Photo credit: Getty Images

Out of nine apprentices on one scaffolding course, three are women. Tahmia Gerard is one of those, and she is 23 years old.

"It's chill, it's like you are chilling with the boys but you are at work as well so it's even more casual," she says.

Zoe Reedy is another on the course, and she's 31.

"I think it's amazing for women to put their foot forward and step into a male industry, it's like a huge achievement on our part," she says.

And Margaret's 36.

"Really good to see more women being involved so that we show, with it being previously male-oriented industry, that females can bring their part," she says.

Both Zoe and Margaret are retraining after either being at home raising children or working in an office.

While they're older apprentices, but not a touch on Neil McCormack, who's old enough to retire - so how many years will he stick around?

"I have watched too many of my friends retire at 65 and they just go home and fade away and they die," he says.

Ivey reckons he'll get "a few more" years out of him yet.