Labour leader Chris Hipkins has used his first major speech to his party to promise to keep an existing apprenticeship scheme in place.
He has just delivered the keynote address to about 400 party faithful at Labour’s election year congress in Wellington.
Hipkins said if Labour secured a third term, the party would make the apprenticeship boost scheme permanent.
The programme, which was introduced as a temporary pandemic measure in 2020, pays employers $500 a month over two years for every apprentice they train.
Hipkins said the apprenticeship scheme created opportunities and helped ease skill shortages.
“The world is rapidly changing, and we know the best way to equip New Zealanders for the jobs of tomorrow is through investing in them and their education and training,” Hipkins said.
The initiative is due to end in December 2024. Keeping it in place permanently would cost $420 million over four years.
Hipkins told Labour members the extension would give businesses certainty.
“It will reinforce our strong message to school leavers, and in fact to all New Zealanders, that under Labour – the party of apprenticeships – the trades are a great career opportunity and we will back you all the way.”
Hipkins described apprenticeships and training as a “major area where we disagree with the coalition of cuts.”
He attacked National’s response to the global financial crisis, saying “National were so focused on the short term that they simply stood back while hundreds of millions of dollars of funding was lost from apprenticeship schemes and polytechnics.”
“They pulled the rug out from under New Zealand’s future.”
Education and training, which Hipkins described as one of his “great passions in politics”, was a theme as Hipkins told the audience more about his upbringing in the eastern suburbs of Upper Hutt.
“I benefited from a good public school education, with teachers that went the extra mile,” Hipkins said.
He talked about his parents’ careers in education and maintenance contracting, acknowledging “many of the opportunities I’ve had came from their hard graft, and I’ll never forget that.”
“I know that there are a lot of parents out there at the moment putting in the long hours who feel like they aren’t making progress and aren’t seeing their efforts rewarded with a better life for them and their kids. The modern economy seems stacked against them.”
That was why he joined the Labour Party, Hipkins said, as he wanted New Zealand to be a country where “everyone who works hard can get ahead.”
A plumber, gasfitter and drainlayer said the promise to continue the Apprenticeship Boost scheme is a good move but it will not help the industry in the long run.
Wal Gordon, chairperson of the former Plumbers Gasfitters and Drainlayers Federation, said the scheme would help businesses in the short term but won’t solve the problem of workforce shortages.
He said, in some trades, apprentices need better training and the qualification system should be simplified.