The Prime Minister has confirmed that "any form of apprenticeship will be free from July" until December 2022, as part of the Government's free trades training commitment.
"We are announcing today that the package set out in the Budget will mean any form of apprenticeship will be free from July 1 this year," Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday.
"This is a direct help to small businesses thinking about taking on an apprentice and also ensures we are incentivising even more people entering the trades that we have skill shortages in."
The Government signalled in Budget 2020 that the cost of trades training would be covered by a $1.6 billion injection from the $50 billion COVID-19 relief fund.
Ardern and Education Minister Chris Hipkins have now confirmed that a 'Targeted Training and Apprenticeships Fund' (TTAF) will pay for Kiwis of all ages to undertake vocational education and training for two-and-a-half years.
This is just one part. The initial $1.6 billion announcement in Budget 2020 was split into several aspects, including $320 million for targeted investment for free trades training in critical industries - and that's what's been outlined today.
"The $320 million fund is part of a wider package to get New Zealand moving again announced on Budget Day," Hipkins said. "It will work alongside the Employer Apprenticeship subsidy scheme, of which we'll be announcing further details shortly."
From July 1 and the rest of 2020, the Government is initially targeting vocational programmes in areas such as agriculture, forestry, construction, engineering, transport, mental health and counselling, and manufacturing.
Hipkins said the initial targeted areas will be refined for 2021 to reflect "what skills will be needed to support the country's economic recovery" from COVID-19.
Apprentices and learners whose courses started earlier in the year but continue beyond July will be eligible for a partial refund - although details of how much they will be refunded have not yet been disclosed.
Hipkins said every course is different and the costs will vary, but he said in many cases the Government's investment will save learners and apprentices between $2500 and $6500 per year.
The fund will cover course fees, compulsory course costs, and compulsory student services fees paid by learners or employers to tertiary education organisations.
"Supporting New Zealanders who lost their job because of the virus is at the heart of our economic response," Ardern said. "There have already been significant job losses and there will be many more in the coming months."
The latest figures from Stats NZ show job numbers plummeted by 37,500 in April as the economic impact of COVID-19 has crippled businesses in New Zealand.
"Unfortunately, the economic damage caused by the virus is something every country is experiencing and not something we can avoid," Ardern added. "However, we can avoid leaving people behind and we can ensure New Zealanders and their families are supported.
"That's why the Government is so focused on job creation at this stage of the recovery - creating opportunities for those without work to move into something quickly... for many that will require re-training and getting new skills.
"This trades package is an important part of our overall plan. It's about ensuring people can acquire skills and get jobs in the parts of the economy critical to our COVID rebuild and can do that for free."
The tertiary education sector itself has been hit by a decline in international students.
Hipkins said the Government is currently working with international education providers to "discuss what a quarantine arrangement would look like" for international students coming into New Zealand.
Budget 2020 also included a $1.1 billion investment to create an estimated 11,000 environment-focussed jobs across regional New Zealand.