Fees Free for apprentices to help alleviate construction skills shortages

The Government’s free fees initiative looks set to help alleviate some of the skills shortages in the building and construction industry, with some new apprentices eligible for two years of free training from 2018.

Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO) Chief Executive Warwick Quinn says the construction industry is booming and apprentices are in hot demand. “The sector’s crying out for more trainees with 56,000 new workers needed in construction and related occupations over the next five years.”

The fees free scheme will cover a student’s fees for one year of tertiary study or for two years of industry-based training. Quinn says the Government is recognising that trades training is just as important as tertiary institution based study.

“We welcome the Government’s commitment to levelling the playing field between industry-based training and university based study. The extra year of zero fees for apprentices means they’ll be supported to reach the same level of post-school education as a student in a tertiary institution.”

Fees free will also benefit employers who take on apprentices. “We need more employers to invest their time, skills and energy into training apprentices. The Government has recognised the role employers, many of whom operate small businesses with limited resources, play in giving their trainees an ’on the job ‘education.”

The majority of BCITO’s construction apprenticeships will be covered by the Fees Free policy, although there are strict eligibility criteria and existing apprentices won't benefit. The scheme is only available to new apprentices who haven't studied before. But there is a concern that as the industry continues to become more specialised, we need to encourage shorter, more focused courses which currently would not be covered by the scheme. 

“We believe this would be a logical next step for the Government’s initiative,” says Quinn. “For the industry to be able to respond to the current demand, and to reach its KiwiBuild target of 100,000 affordable new homes within 10 years we are going to need more specialist skills. This will require the industry to make it easier for workers to undertake more targeted training.”

“With specialisation a significant feature of the construction industry right now, we would not like to see potential apprentices steering away from such opportunities just to benefit from free fees. This would further hinder those companies that operate in this space that are desperate for skills.”

The trades provide many opportunities for young people and there are a raft of exciting careers in the building and construction industry.

“The free fees initiative starts to breakdown the intergenerational prejudice we have in this country about a career in the trades which we know can be very rewarding,” says Mr Quinn. “This decision comes on the back of a recent report which proves apprentices can be financially better off than University graduates throughout the first half of their careers, and when they’re ready to retire their financial positions are about the same.”

“Our message to young people is that there has never been a better time to be in the building and construction industry.”

BCITO will provide more specific information to industry, apprentices and employers about Fees Free soon. To find out how it works and who is eligible, visit www.feesfree.govt.nz 

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