Parents and teachers of school leavers need to start taking careers in trades seriously as teens are missing out on genuine opportunities to avoid student loans and get ahead.
Fiona Kingsford, chief executive of industry training organisation Competenz, says while around 60,000 teenagers leave school each year, just 4% of them go straight into trades training.
“We need to triple that. More than half of New Zealand’s apprentices and trainees have already been to university or another tertiary institute and many of them have clocked up student debt. But they could have avoided that debt altogether and started an apprenticeship straight away.
“Research shows that because apprentices start earning earlier, they can buy a house earlier and pay off a mortgage earlier, which puts them financially ahead of university graduates for most of their working lives, and at about the same financial position when they’re ready to retire.
“Our mission is to educate not only school leavers about their opportunities, but also their parents and careers advisers too.”
Competenz works with apprentices and trainees across 36 sectors including mechanical engineering, one of New Zealand’s biggest growth areas.
Ms Kingsford says: “Infometrics data shows that we’ll need 5,500 more workers in the mechanical engineering sector between now and 2022 to fill new jobs and replace workers who retire or leave. That’s just one sector, and with such a small number of school leavers going into the trades, employers are all competing for the same pool of people.
“We need to get more school leavers into trades now, or the skills shortage will only get worse.
“A lot of the decision-making is aided by parents and family members and a lot of the time it’s what mum and dad know of those industries. But we need our young people to be aware of all the opportunities out there.”
Competenz works closely with Apprentice Training New Zealand (ATNZ), the country’s largest employer of mechanical engineering apprentices. “ATNZ has recruited 105 apprentices this year, and still has another 50 apprenticeship vacancies to fill across the country. “Auckland employs one third of mechanical engineers, and coupled with strong future population growth, the region still holds good prospects for those entering the sector. That said, rents and house prices are sky rocketing in Auckland, so working in smaller regions allows people to easily relocate and enjoy a higher quality of life. “There are genuine opportunities throughout the country.”
Cost me five grand
Maintenance engineer Tautalafua Mata’afa went to university when he left school, but it was a costly mistake.
“I went to uni for one semester after high school and that cost me five grand. That’s when I realised I wasn’t really into just studying, I was more into practical work and working with tools.”
He spent the next few years as a labourer in various sectors in New Zealand and Australia before starting an ATNZ apprenticeship in maintenance engineering at Pacific Steel in Auckland. He’s now a qualified tradesman working at Steelpipe in Onehunga.