February 2021


28 Jan 2021, Training

Last year, BCITO announced an all-time-record of more than 16,000 apprentices in training. We talk to interim CEO Greg Durkin about the factors driving the boom

The undersupply of apprentices has been a long-term problem in New Zealand, especially in construction; however, 2020 saw a big increase in numbers. BCITO interim CEO Greg Durkin says there are a number of reasons behind the surge.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in the number of apprentices training since the first Covid-19 lockdown – carpentry is up about 20% and some other trades are up more than 100%,” says Durkin.

“I know that builders who train apprentices will sometimes complain about builders who don’t. In the past, we’ve thought about 20% of builders who could train apprentices actually do, but this year over 50% of employers taking on apprentices have either never had an apprentice before or haven’t trained one in the past two years.”

Durkin appreciates that taking on an apprentice is a big commitment, and he supports the view that employers can’t take it lightly – for the benefit of both the apprentice and the employer.

“The main factor for an employer about whether to take on an apprentice, is the work in front of them. Employers need range and continuity of work to take on an apprentice and do the apprentice justice.

“Also, apprentices are not a viable business proposition in their first year, so knowing you can carry that apprentice into future years, when their skill level is such that they start paying the employer back, is important.”

Government initiatives

This year, some of the challenges of employing apprentices have been taken away. As a pre-emptive move to address a possible industry downturn, the government introduced initiatives to support trades training and the construction industry.

As part of the $1.6bn Trades and Apprenticeships Training Package, $320m has been set aside to support free trades training in critical industries, including the construction sector. A further $412m has been invested in the Apprenticeship Boost initiative, which offers support for employers to retain apprentices and to hire and train more people.

“The two initiatives had a big impact on the number of apprentices from both sides of the equation – fees-free study for apprentices and the subsidy for employers. So now we’ve got more apprentices keen on taking up a trade and more employers keen to take on apprentices,” says Durkin.

“BCITO has also played its part with effective marketing to make sure the right message gets to the right people. With a coalition of those three factors, apprenticeships are now experiencing a genuine boom and we are thrilled about that.”

Reaching the audience
Promoting the trades to a wider audience is primarily the responsibility of BCITO. Last year’s TV commercial ‘A Tricky Chat’, which framed a teenager’s announcement to his parents that he wants to be a tradie as a type of ‘coming out’ conversation, addressed the issue of pursuing a career in the trades as not being commonly accepted.

“It was a very successful campaign and has been seen and enjoyed in homes across the country,” says Durkin. “However, a lot of our marketing is on social media, where we have tens of thousands of people interacting with us.”

School focus
Engaging schoolkids is another strand of BCITO’s approach to promoting a career in trades.

“We are in 350 of the 500 secondary schools in New Zealand. We help run what is now called Materials Technology, which many of us would haver known as woodworking when we were at school,” says Durkin.

“We now provide a digital environment to upload evidence of work, which becomes part of a student’s portfolio to take into an apprenticeship. Up to 11,000 students every year will achieve credits in that program, which is used to prepare them and make them aware of the options available in construction.”

When asked how he would respond to builders who say that schools don’t present trades as a good option for students, Durkin says that, while up to ten years ago that was often the case, things are changing.

“When I was at school, the attitude was that trades were further down the ladder, but we have seen a significant shift in the views of students, teachers and parents, especially in the past ten years.

“We’ve done a lot of work with schools and I believe those we work with now have a broad approach to the options put in front of students.

“Having said that, NCEA does orient students toward full-time study when they leave school. Our view is that completing an apprenticeship is a tertiary education, but that educations is being completed at work.”

A unique relationship
Asked if builders can get involved in promoting building trades, Durkin says that builders are in a unique position with their clients, because they often form relationships that are high in trust.

“When you build or renovate a house that the client is happy with, they trust you and, as part of that relationship, they see you as a good person. So when a builder is looking for an apprentice, a good place to start is with people who already trust you – your previous clients, who may have children or friends who would be suitable.

“There is value to a builder in promoting the fact that they take on apprentices, because apprenticeships are a strong brand – people like them. Mums and dads and grandads like apprenticeships. When these people choose a builder to work in their home, they choose on values as well as just price,” says Durkin.

ROVE and BCITO and the future
The government’s recent Review of Vocational Education (RoVE) recommended a change to how vocational education is provided. BCITO will be replaced by new organisations in a transition period over the next couple of years. Durkin believes the transition will be smooth for both employers and apprentices.

“BCITO will work with the new agencies that will take responsibility for apprenticeships, and I know many of our existing staff will be employed by these new agencies. That is where our capability lies, in our people, so I am hopeful the momentum we have builtwill only grow from here.”


BCITO oversees 15 different construction trades, with 85% of apprentices registered with it.

The organisation assists employers with apprentices’ training by providing training materials, meeting up with the apprenticesand assessing their progress.

“Across the 15 trades we look after, we have 200 staff who travel out to see employers every day, catching up with each apprentice every couple of months.

“The employer provides the training in a real-life building setting, and we help ensure that the apprentice is making progress towards the standards they must meet, and make sure their training is being recorded, so they can qualify.

“It’s a training model where BCITO assists with learning resources and assessment, while the employer is the primary teacher.”


BCITO is the largest provider of construction trade apprenticeships in New Zealand. It is appointed by the Government to develop and implement industry qualifications for the building and construction sector. BCITO provide a range of apprenticeships across fifteen trades within the building and construction industry. To find out more visit www.bcito.org.nz

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