A new Auckland-based business is creating a strong pipeline of apprenticeships to help ease the shortage of skilled workers in the building and construction industry.

NZA Apprenticeships, established in early 2017, plans to have 400 to 500 apprentices in training and employment by 2020 – including 150 in Auckland.

``We want to be New Zealand’s largest employer of apprentices in the building and construction sector,’’ says Chris Hilson who founded NZA with business partner, Penny Clayton.

Hilson and Clayton saw a gap in the market – no managed apprenticeship company was operating in the country’s building and construction sector – and their initiative is a big boost to the industry that requires thousands more qualified tradespeople.

Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED), which has created connections for NZA, is promoting an industry-led Build AKL campaign aimed at getting young people into employment in the thriving construction and infrastructure industry.  

NZA Chris Hilson Penny Clayton
Penny Clayton and Chris Hilson saw a gap in the market and founded NZA Apprenticeships.

Raising awareness of a career

The campaign raises awareness of the number and diversity of roles within the sector, and is aligned with ATEED’s purpose of supporting the growth of quality jobs for all Aucklanders.  

“Businesses are still importing skilled workers to overcome the shortage, and we can help solve the problem by getting people through apprenticeships,” says Hilson.   

NZA employs the apprentices, paying their wages including holidays and statutory days, KiwiSaver, sick leave, safety gear and tool money, and then contracts them out to a host business so the apprentices can get on-the-job experience.   

“Employers like to take a low risk option,” says Hilson. “We are dealing with small to medium-sized builders and they are time poor. We take the burden of recruitment and paperwork away from them.”  

NZA also works with BCITO to support the apprentices’ training requirements. The apprenticeships take between two and four years to complete, depending on the trade. For instance, a roofer can be qualified in just over two years while a carpenter is training for about four years.   

Other trades covered by NZA are painting, concrete, joinery, bricklaying, and the company will add any other building and construction trade if there is a need.  

We want to have the country covered by the end 2019 and by then have more than 100 apprentices on our books.”


Chris Hilson, NZA Apprenticeships chief executive

Providing pastoral care

Hilson says “between us and BCITO, we provide a lot of pastoral care to deliver a qualified tradesperson to the industry. NZA checks the progress of all apprentices onsite a minimum of six times a year, with BCITO accessing each apprentice four times a year. If the apprentices are not getting the right on-the-job training, then we will move them to another company.”  

NZA attracts people into a career in building and construction by marketing on social media, Trade Me and through existing industry networks.   

“We found a number of parents have preconceived ideas about what their children should do, and there was no in-depth realisation about what trades can provide,” says Hilson. “There are quite a few successful tradespeople around and you can create a good career in building and construction.”  

Hilson, who was an owner-operator with PlaceMakers and a senior manager with Mitre 10, says employers are looking for people with the right attitude. ``They are willing to train apprentices but it’s a two-way street – they want workers who are committed and will stay on. We find the best age group to attract apprentices is in their mid-20s – they know what they want.”  

NZA is presently employing 50 apprentices in the Auckland region and is establishing franchises nationwide. The Waikato region is up and running, and other territories will be Otago/Southland, Canterbury/Nelson, Wellington/Manawatu, Taranaki/Poverty Bay/Hawke’s Bay, and Bay of Plenty.  

“We want to have the country covered by the end 2019 and by then have more than 100 apprentices on our books,” says Hilson. NZA has a team of five including three business managers and the company will take on more business managers as the number of apprenticeships grow.  

How ATEED helped

With the support of Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED), Hilson and Clayton developed a strong business case before launching into the market.

  Hilson contacted ATEED through its website. “I was doing some research and came across business mentoring. I was looking for likeminded people to bounce ideas off and not second guess yourself.”  

ATEED facilitated a New Zealand Trade and Enterprise Capability voucher and referred NZA to the Icehouse which provides business coaching and supports growth strategies.  

“I had business coaches assigned to me (including sales and franchising) and they keep you on track. They are quite structured which is good – some of us need that. The coaches set goals to be achieved,” says Hilson.  

By the end NZA had developed a suite of business systems (including online HR) ready for franchising and business growth. NZA is operating a Cloud-based platform and the franchisees will easily access contracts and other documents.   

“The mentoring was definitely of great benefit,” says Hilson. “It certainly confirmed the direction we were taking.”  

At a glance


NZA Apprentices’ business: Employing building and construction apprentices and placing them with businesses for on-the-job experience.   

Location: Headquartered on the North Shore, Auckland.  

Export markets: None  

ATEED assisted by: Making connections and facilitating a NZTE Capability voucher for business mentoring at the Icehouse.  

Website: https://nza.org.nz  

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