Apprenticeship the Overlooked Institution, Part 1

Here is part one of a slightly edited speech I gave to several ACT regional conferences at the end of 2004. While I never did an apprenticeship myself, I have trained several and very much value the institution.

I hope that anybody interested in trade training or the wellbeing of our youth will take the time to read these posts. Comments or suggestions, much appreciated.

Apprenticeship, the Overlooked Institution

In the early 1990s the National Government made two major mistakes, the effects of which are with us every day. The first was Jim Bolger’s sacking of Minister of Finance Ruth Richardson.

The second was Minister of Education, Lockwood Smith’s, near destruction of the apprenticeship system. Dr Smith, who promised to rein in the education bureaucrats was instead seduced by them. The illegitimate offspring of that ill starred union became known as “seamless education

Rather than complete a three to five year apprenticeship, people could instead train over an indefinite period of time, accumulating “unit standards” which would lead to more flexible qualifications and “prove” competence over a range of areas.

This “seamless” system was backed by a student loan scheme (or scam) which financed trainees into virtually any program that could gain New Zealand Qualifications Authority approval.

This approach, had four major flaws.

Firstly it created a huge and expensive bureaucracy that financially drains trainees and mentally exhausts employers.

Secondly it weakened the commitment to high quality training by both parties, trainer and trainee, that a stable, three to five year apprenticeship fosters.

Thirdly it caused most employers to reconsider their training intake and in many cases to either reduce or stop training apprentices altogether.

Fourthly it created a huge industry of private training establishments, some good, some indifferent, some diabolical. These helped to create a culture where it is almost the norm for a young person to start life with a large student loan.

By the mid 1990s apprenticeship training had almost ceased and has only begun a slight recovery since the introduction of the “modern apprenticeship” scheme.

After the 1987 stock market crash apprentice numbers went into deep decline. By 1992 there were only 14,000 apprentices in New Zealand. Today while there are tens of thousands in some form of “training” today there are just over 6,000 actual

So What?

Training organization bureaucrats would argue that there are more people in training than ever before. That is true, but training should be to serve a purpose not be an end in itself. Numbers do not equal quality. In reality there is a huge shortage of skilled tradesmen in New Zealand and there are no where near enough apprentices to fill the gap

Conversely, there are thousands of unemployed or under skilled young people languishing on benefits, stuck in dead end jobs or wasting their time and taxpayers money on courses of dubious value.

Why should we care? Young people are still in training, either on the job, at polytech, or in private institutions. We should care because the best and most cost effective method of training is struggling, while more expensive and less satisfactory options are growing.

We should care because thousands of young people are incurring huge student loans to do courses of questionable value when they should be getting paid to learn on the job. Student debt is ballooning out of control while teenagers are paying big money to earn “unit standards” in everything from scuba diving to basket weaving.

We should care because many of these courses, are little but “self esteem factories” turning out “graduates” with totally unrealistic ideas of their ability. Some time ago I spoke to an 18 year old girl who was about to start her own car wrecking yard on the recommendation of her business course mentor. This girl and hundreds like her should be starting at the bottom in an apprenticeship, not wasting time and money on stupid schemes.

New Zealand industry is starved of skilled tradesmen which is stunting economic growth. We have the insane situation where thousands of bright young people are doing expensive courses or dead end jobs while hundreds of employers with huge skills to offer are either reluctant or unable to train them.

Many of those businesses that could be training our future tradesmen are simply refusing to do so. Hundreds of ridiculous “unit standards” must be assessed and written up in triplicate. They are not even all work related. I have to assess my apprentices on brushing their teeth, or holding a conversation with their mother in law.

Employers are sickened by the countless farcical “assessments” that apprenticeship training now entails, the huge drain on time and the spiraling costs from the multiple bureaucracies involved.

In many parts of the country there are even community trusts who handle paperwork and subsidise costs so that local businesses can be enticed into employing apprentices. That people are willing to do this is admirable. That they should have to, is disgraceful.

In the South Island the 4Trades scheme which is funded by WINZ, the Canterbury Development Corporation, and the Mayor’s Taskforce for Jobs hires out apprentices to firms. In return for handling taxes, assessments etc $Trades charges employers $2 an hour over the apprentices wage. Taxpayer and ratepayers money is being used to relieve a problem caused by Government bureaucracy in the first place.

The “baby boomers” who learned their trades in the ‘60s,’70s or ‘80s are now retiring or moving into management. Who is going to train the next generation on the factory floor?


Author: Admin

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6 thoughts on “Apprenticeship the Overlooked Institution, Part 1

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  2. I agree 76. An apprenticeship should be like a marriage (only lasting longer)-a long term commitment to an employer or firm with skills being taught in return for loyal service. Hope you find the rest of the article interesting.

  3. A lot of apprentices taken on by private training providers get disheartened because they are merely shipped around to various sites every couple of months and no one takes a vested interest in developing their skills. They are often just slave labour so to speak.

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