In the years following the Second World War New Zealand had full employment and a booming economy. This was the peak period for apprenticeship in New Zealand. Skilled labour was scarce and, even though wages were high for unskilled work, there were benefits and social status associated with having a trade. A trade qualification was assumed to provide a job for the rest of the person’s life.
Apprenticeship Act 1948
The Apprenticeship Act 1948 replaced the voluntary and local committees set up by the 1923 act with national apprenticeship committees made up of industry and union representatives. Technical education became standard for most apprenticeships, with examinations set by the Trades Certification Board. Apprentices’ wages were set at a fixed proportion of a tradesman’s hourly rate, typically starting at 23% of that rate for the first 1,000 hours and rising steadily to 77% for the 10th 1,000 hours. Apprenticeships were measured in hours rather than years, with each 1,000 hours equalling six months’ training.
During the 1950s around 30% of all male school leavers expected to enter a skilled trade by completing an apprenticeship. Women apprentices remained very rare, except in traditionally female trades such as women’s hairdressing. There were very few Māori tradespeople, and from the late 1950s special hostels, a training centre and trade training schemes were set up to help Māori apprentices adapt to an increasingly urban lifestyle. However, in 1967 the proportion of Māori school leavers taking up apprenticeships was still only one-third of the national rate.
Apprenticeship Act 1983
From the late 1960s increased automation and the introduction of new industries such as aluminium smelting created major problems for workplace training. Skilled tradespeople were in short supply, yet the social status of workers in trades was dropping. Also, around one-third of apprentices did not complete their contracts. Unemployment was also starting to rise, especially among women, Māori, Pacific Islanders and unskilled workers.
The Apprenticeship Act 1983 revised the outdated apprenticeship system and extended it to a wider range of people, including more women trainees. However, its reforms were overtaken by the economic and political restructuring of New Zealand after 1984.
Decline of apprenticeships
From 1988 apprentice numbers began to decline dramatically. A career in the trades was no longer considered as desirable as it had once been, and a widespread attitude developed that school leavers needed a university degree to get a good job. During the 1980s and 1990s the manufacturing sector shrank and unemployment rose sharply. Large public institutions such as the Post Office, New Zealand Railways and the Government Printing Office, which had traditionally trained hundreds of young people each year, became profit-oriented state-owned enterprises, and training in the public-sector workforce almost disappeared. On an international scale the New Zealand workforce had relatively low skills, low productivity and a low level of formal training.
In spite of many efforts to increase the numbers of female, Māori and Pacific Island apprentices, young Pākehā men made up the great majority of trainees, and most were not trained to produce the high-quality, high-value products that the economy now required. Employers were reluctant to take on apprentices because they had to be contracted for the full term of their apprenticeship, regardless of changes in the workload. Employers also accused the state education system of having an academic bias and of neglecting subjects such as the sciences and engineering.