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Plain English: 14 July 2006

Plain English
14 July 2006

Trades Trouble

Trade training is in trouble because the Government has focused on numbers rather than quality. This week's sacking of the Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Registration Board is an indicator of the tensions under the surface as all trades grapple with skill shortages. Labour has focused on big headline numbers. Each Budget they announce thousands of places - often the same thousands as they announced the previous year. The Plumbers Board wouldn't play the game of meeting Labour's requirements for big numbers. They set exams that many apprentices failed because they insisted on high standards.

Australian Standards Higher?

The Plumbers Board planned to use the Australian plumbers' qualification instead of the New Zealand one, and apparently most of the industry agreed. One reason was that the board had no faith in the New Zealand standards, and another was that more and more of the big clients in the construction industry are run out of Australia and they prefer Australian certification. So the Aussies are beating us in the market for setting skill levels. I don't like it. We should be organised enough and smart enough to set our own standards - and they should be as good as the Aussies.

Skilled Lessons from Agriculture

Publicly funded education and skills training are the principle tools any government can use to influence productivity. There are no large pools of unused labour to propel economic growth, so from here it's all hard work to raise the productivity of each person already in the workforce. Agriculture has been a star, with productivity growth twice the rest of the economy in the last decade. In that time the number of people getting relevant qualifications has dropped, which shows that qualifications aren't the same as skills.
Where Your Money Goes

Labour spends $140 million each year running tertiary education and trades training - up from $40 million just five years ago. But they can't count the students. I have spent months trying to find out how many young people who enrol in the Modern Apprenticeships actually complete the apprenticeship. Dr Cullen won't tell me. I believe the information he has shows very high dropout rates. The taxpayer shells out more than $2000 per apprentice to a "co-ordinator", who is meant to make sure the apprentices stay on. I have also found out that the Government can't count how many students finish the university and polytechnic courses they started. One official piece of paper says the system can show a student completing a course they were never enrolled in. So your money is in good hands.

The Gay News

Why does Labour go to so much trouble to tell everyone that their new Member of Parliament to replace Jim Sutton is gay, and that the next one is a unionist and the next one after that is gay? Who cares?

Bill English


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