Coronavirus: Government commits $40 million to regional apprenticeship support

The Government is reprioritising $40 million from the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) to maintain a "pipeline of skilled workers" needed for regional economies in the future.

With industries in New Zealand's regions hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones announced early on that money from the PGF would be redirected towards projects and schemes that assist the country's immediate recovery.

On Thursday, Jones said $40 million of reprioritised funds would support 1000 regional apprenticeships under the Regional Apprenticeship Initiative. 

This is part of the wider Apprenticeship Boost programme announced by Education Minister Chris Hipkins and Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni on Wednesday. It provides businesses with up to $16,000 to pay the cost of each apprentice they train between August 2020 and April 2022.

"The Regional Apprenticeship Initiative will provide a funding boost for the regions and will ensure the pipeline of skilled workers the regional economies will need in the future is maintained. It will also help apprentices to stay connected to their communities," Jones said. 

According to a statement, the regional scheme will initially focus on supporting workers "displaced by the effects of COVID-19 as well as Māori and Pacific people". 

"Once that initial need has been met the fund will be open to all regional apprentices and employers."

It's hoped that much of the funding will be paid out in the first six months to provide a quick boost to businesses and give some employment security.

"It is vital for the regions and their people that employers are supported to offer apprenticeships and that new apprentices are confident they can train and not be adversely affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19," Jones said.

An employer will have to ensure the apprentice is paid at least the minimum wage or training wage. 

The Apprenticeship Boost programme has been budgeted $380.6 million. 

"Apprentices are significant investments for firms, particularly in the early years of their training, and can be the first to be laid off when companies have to tighten their belts," Hipkins said.

"This investment is key to helping businesses keep people on and give them more confidence to take on new apprentices. This is essential as we roll out and fast track infrastructure projects."