Growing the skills pipeline… trades, training and a transition

The Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO) recently reached a new milestone, announcing 16,000 apprentices actively training. This is the highest number of apprentices ever, and in a time where tradies are in short supply, it’s a big step in the right direction. BCITO is determined to grow the skills pipeline New Zealand desperately needs and ensure supply meets demand for the building and construction sector. Here, chief executive, Toby Beaglehole, describes how.

I joined BCITO as its new chief executive in January this year, as the organisation celebrates its 30th birthday. Coming from an ITO in a kindred sector, I was aware of the challenges and changes BCITO is facing as we work to overcome a skills shortage and manage an effective transition into Te Pūkenga. With demand for apprentices booming, we’re looking forward to supporting building and construction through a bumper year.

Working to address the skills shortage

The skills shortage is a challenge that has plagued the building and construction sector for many years. During the Global Financial Crisis we lost many of our skilled workers, and as a result we’ve yet to hit the capacity and skills mix we need today. As we recover from the impacts of COVID-19, building and construction is a sector that has a lot to do, even with the borders closed. With building consents remaining high following lockdown, and the government committing to a number of major infrastructure projects, demand for skilled labour is surging. A career in the trades offers stability and opportunity in these uncertain times, and people are embracing both.

While we are seeing a positive shift in apprentice numbers, the uptake of training needs to continue if we are to fill the skills pipeline and meet demand. Government, industry and vocational providers are all working on multiple fronts to address training needs, and the government’s Apprenticeship Boost and Free Trades Training have supported the significant and ongoing increase in apprenticeships.

It’s a win-win for employers

Along with the need for more apprentices in training, the sector also needs more qualified tradespeople to train our future workforce. Taking on an apprentice has never been easier with the government’s 2020 Budget offering significant investment in trade apprenticeships. Some $412 million has been invested in the Apprenticeship Boost Scheme which offers support for employers to retain apprentices and to hire and train more people.

It’s fantastic to see the government’s Apprenticeship Boost and No Fees schemes are working, and as a result we have more people not only entering the trades but also more employers training apprentices. For both parties it’s an absolute win-win. There are no fees at present, the apprentice gets to earn while they learn, and for the employer, the financial support helps them to train while the apprentice is in the early stages of their apprenticeship. We would like to see the government’s support for employers continue, to ensure we maintain the momentum in attracting employers to industry training.

The construction industry needs confident, capable and motivated professionals. Through on-the-job training and a deep understanding of the sector, BCITO will support the construction industry to build a skilled workforce. Together we can deliver a workforce where people can excel, achieve professional qualifications and become valuable contributors to industry and society.

We are growing along with industry so that we can support the high volume of people and businesses involved in training. We have never had this many people in training before in our entire thirty years of operation. With the government support available, there’s never been a better time than now to get involved and train an apprentice.

A smooth transition

This year our focus at BCITO is to work through the reform of vocational education (RoVE) to ensure a smooth transition for all apprentices, employers, and our people. We support the government’s decisions and are working in partnership with Te Pūkenga and the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) to make sure that the only impacts on employers and apprentices are positive ones. We have an opportunity to contribute to one of the biggest reforms of vocational education New Zealand has ever seen.

Together with industry we’ll keep amplifying the employer voice, and promote system changes that result in industry and apprentice success through a better system of vocational education.

I am confident BCITO will have a smooth transition, and that BCITO and the sector will continue to attract more talent into the trades. We will collectively ensure we have the trained workforce needed to deliver the growth and careers that New Zealanders deserve.