Taking up a carpentry trade apprenticeship is no easy task, and employing an apprentice also brings new challenges for builders. It can prove too much for some, leading to high levels of attrition, which isn’t great for the apprentices who do not finish their qualification, their employers, or the country given the need for more fully qualified builders to meet demand and raise industry standards. To address this, NZCB is launching its Apprentice Network designed to provide wraparound support to ensure both apprentices and their employers have good experiences of the apprenticeship journey.
NZCB’s Apprentice Network gives apprentices access to additional education and training that complements their Te Pūkenga-provided learning pathway, access to mentoring, health and wellbeing support, including access to mental health services, and a raft of deals and discounts for products and services relevant to their trade such as tools and fuel discounts. They also get preferential entry to NZCB’s annual Apprentice Challenge and the annual NZCB Conference and Expo, as well as access to grants through NZCB’s Apprentice Trust.
Dave Whitehead, owner of Lifebuilt Construction Ltd in Auckland, has piloted the Apprentice Network with his own team of apprentices and says it provides apprentices with a real understanding of what it means to work in the industry.
“A lot of builders who employ apprentices believe in the school of hard knocks, but I want a better trade-training experience for my people. The Apprentice Network gives them access to education on everything from contracts and insurance to marketing and dealing with customers. It’s about equipping them with an understanding of what it actually means to work in this industry, not just the technical carpentry skills they need,” says Whitehead.
He says the Apprentice Network’s emphasis on mental health is also a major benefit, given the construction sector is known to be one of the worst for mental health, as reflected by suicide rates.
“It offers apprentices someone else to talk to if they don’t feel they can ask their parents, partners, or colleagues working beside them when there’s something going on. It also gives us as employers someone to talk things through with, which is really important given the pressures of running a business and being responsible for apprentices as well as other staff,” says Whitehead.
Other benefits of the Apprentice Network for employers are practical support like template apprentice employment contracts and an apprentice insurance package, as well as access to training on how best to teach apprentices and give them a great experience of the trade so they stick with it. The Apprentice Network’s Train the Trainer programme offers employers a series of educational modules on fostering an effective learning environment for an increasingly diverse range of apprentices, including more women.
Whitehead says female apprentices face particular challenges given worksites are still male dominated, and employers need help to understand how to best support them in navigating those challenges.
“We need to attract more women into the trades and retain them throughout their apprenticeships and beyond, and it’s fantastic that there is a specific focus on this in the Apprentice Network’s Train the Trainer series,” he says.
Membership of the NZCB Apprentice Network is open to any apprentice employed by an NZCB Business Member builder, regardless of what stage they are at in their apprenticeship, with an annual subscription fee to be paid by the employer.
“While it’s another cost for our member builders who, like all small business owners, are facing rising costs on a number of other fronts, I’d encourage them to consider it an investment in productivity and staff retention.”