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Changing the labour hire paradigm one apprentice at a time

As a strategy to retain labour hire staff, offer them career pathways and address the shortage of women participating in the sector, New Zealand’s Building Recruitment has developed its own apprentice training program.

Managing Director Kevin Everett (pictured left) explained the program was developed in response to industry and candidate feedback where labour hire staff made it clear they did not believe they had long-term careers in the sector.

“Labour hire is such a big part of the building industry but many, labour hire companies have a reputation for treating people as if they are just a number,” Everett said.

“We believe labour hire companies should be more involved in the training of those participating in their industry and in doing so, change both the reality and the perception of what is happening.

“If we can create a situation where they see a career for themselves in the future with us, they won’t leave. It also means we know they have the skills and training they should be receiving throughout their apprenticeship.”

Everett said the skills shortage in the sector had seen many apprentices given comprehensive training in some areas of their trade but incomplete or non-existent training in others and this was a problem which needed to be arrested.

“There are so many standard units apprentices need to complete to finish their apprenticeships,” he explained. “But what we are seeing is on sites where they are flat out, apprentices are often given the same task to do over and over again but are not being taught all the skills they need and all the units required are simply not covered.

“There is a massive shortage of apprentices and we are being told by BCITO (the government apprentice training body) that there are apprentices who have been with some building companies for two years and still have least two to three years of their apprenticeship to go because their training has been so incomplete.

“Currently the onus for training apprentices is on the employer, but this is not an obligation honoured by some.” In response, Building Recruitment started their own training program and has already engaged their first apprentice, a 17-year-old young woman Jimmie Leigh Curry (pictured right).

Everett explained that he had been pondering the concept of training their own apprentices and offering something akin to work security for labour hire staff when he met Jimmie Leigh. Understanding that with the apprenticeship shortage in New Zealand unlikely to change any time, it also provided a way of encouraging more young women into trades.

“I had been working on an idea where we changed the system,” he said. “I wanted to start a process where when people start to commit to working for us, we reciprocate and commit back to them and for me that meant creating opportunities for people.

“Jimmie Leigh wanted a carpentry apprenticeship and her attitude was exemplary. We told her that if she committed to work with us, we would get her that apprenticeship. We entered into discussion with a client who will do the training, we ensure that all the unit standards are getting met and we are collaborating BCITO so it’s a four way collaboration.

“The commitment means she will not be doing contract work and knows she will have our support throughout her apprenticeship and beyond.

“The fact is we need more women in the industry, not least of all because there are simply not enough men to fill all the jobs. There is an entire untapped resource in the building industry which is women and we need to do what we can to encourage them and pave the way.

“Part of that also means re-educating men about what is acceptable behaviour on a job site so women can feel comfortable if they are to consider these jobs.”

Everett is now encouraging the building and construction sector to learn from their experience and adopt a similar approach of supporting and committing to apprentices to make sure they were supported and properly trained. However, he admits that it is not the most cost-efficient approach.

“We are going for quality over quantity,” Everett said.

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