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Training & Skill Shortages

Vocational Training

With the impending disestablishment of Te Pūkenga (the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology), plumbing, gasfitting and drainlaying apprenticeship training will continue to sit under the EarnLearn – Specialist Trades division. The country’s 16 institutes of technology and polytechnics, formerly merged under the Te Pūkenga model, will return to operating as individual providers.

While the government is promising to work with the sector to ensure there is no disruption to services, there remain key issues from the merger (and subsequent reversal) that still need to be addressed. Primarily, the lack of capacity to provide block courses, which are the essential learning modules required to complete a trade apprenticeship, in an acceptable timeframe. Apprentice numbers have grown, but the capacity at training providers has not kept pace with demand.

Due to block course delays, in 2022 more than 1,240 apprentices were unable to complete their apprenticeships within the normal 5-year duration. On average, apprentices are experiencing 6-9 month delays in being able to attend their block courses in order to complete their apprenticeship and become licenced. The number of ‘over-duration’ apprentices is growing, not lessening.

The resulting delay in the apprentice’s ability to become licensed can discourage employers from taking them on to give them the on-job learning that is a central requirement to completing a plumbing qualification, exacerbating an already critical skills shortage.

52% of Master Plumbers members employing apprentices experienced first-year block course delays of more than 6 months, and 39% reported delays of 4-6 months
*Based on a September 2023 membership survey

Other issues within the training system must be addressed, including tutor shortages, substandard facilities and a lack of innovative training methods to convey rapidly evolving technologies.

Master Plumbers is working collaboratively with Waihanga Ara Rau, the Workforce Development Council for construction and infrastructure, to ensure the review of plumbing, gasfitting and drainlaying qualifications is completed in a timely manner and with the aim of increasing the amount of practical training delivery at block courses.

We propose the establishment of a workplace assessment model, where an apprentice’s on-job training would be recognised via an independent assessment – reducing their time spent at block courses. This would finally acknowledge the skill level of the work apprentices complete on the job. Employers would only be able to enrol apprentices into trades for which they are able to provide real workplace experience.

Our Action Plan

  • Workplace assessments to be carried out on the job by trained and certified assessors to expedite the completion of apprenticeships by providing an alternative route to block courses. Assessor training is already available via a 2-day certification scheme, making it easy to get assessors suitably upskilled. This, together with an audit scheme, which is also already in place, would provide surety of the skills of those being assessed
  • Ensure apprentices have access to world-class facilities with high-quality instruction that prioritises course consistency, sufficient tutor support and training accessibility
  • Greater industry involvement for unit standard development and training delivery.

Skill Shortages

Because sanitary plumbing has significant health consequences, most work must only be carried out by authorised plumbers. That means we must ensure there is the necessary workforce.

New Zealand simply does not have the workforce capacity to keep up with the usual workload, let alone the extensive repair work resulting from recent natural disasters and poorly maintained infrastructure. This has the potential to significantly hinder key government goals of developing more affordable housing and strengthening the country’s ailing infrastructure.

Plumbing also has an ageing workforce. More plumbers are leaving the trade each year than joining it. We still do not have enough apprentices, and only 36 plumbers were recruited from overseas in 2022. To convert their qualifications for New Zealand, each overseas plumber paid $6,500 to the Plumbers, Gasfitters & Drainlayers Board.

Master Plumbers continues its efforts to grow the industry, primarily by training apprentices through Masterlink, but also by promoting the migration of skilled tradespeople to New Zealand.

The Apprenticeship Boost initiative has delivered a 30% increase in apprentices

The Government’s Apprenticeship Boost employer funding initiative, launched in 2021, has contributed to a significant increase in plumbing apprentice enrolments. By removing entry cost barriers, more apprentices have been able to undertake formal training. If the industry is to deliver on future needs, we must continue to incentivise young people into the plumbing profession and provide them with high-quality vocational training.

Our Action Plan

  • Make the Apprenticeship Boost initiative permanent
  • Provide incentives and a simple pathway to residence for migrants with recognised plumbing qualifications
  • Halve the fees for converting an overseas qualification.

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