• Nick Smith

Conservation Minister Nick Smith today announced that the Department of Conservation would be establishing a new apprenticeship programme to enhance the skills of field level staff. It will also provide an opportunity for young people to train in conservation management.

"The mistaken assumption that field work is unskilled, contributed to the Cave Creek tragedy. This new apprenticeship programme will be about providing a career path for young people wanting to get into conservation work, and developing the specific range of skills that are required to do it well. These skills include safe and efficient construction of track and backcountry facilities, effective pest control and safe poison use, endangered species recovery methods and visitor services skills. The emphasis of the training will be very much towards practical rather than academic skills."

Mr Smith said that this new training programme is part of the fourth training initiative and final leg of changes within the Department to overcome the deficiencies identified in the Cave Creek Inquiry. The first step was in introducing proper quality assurance systems, the second was in restructuring the Department to ensure proper lines of accountability and the third step was in gaining additional funding for upgrading visitor structures. The issue of skills within the Department has been addressed through further training of existing staff as well as this new programme. The fourth step was a change in law to ensure a State Department is legally liable, under the Occupational Health and Safety Legislation and Building Acts, is strongly supported by the Minister and the Department of Conservation. However, responsibility for this change of law rests with the States Services Commission and Attorney-General who are progressing the issue through the Law Commission.

The training programme is intended to be a two or three year programme involving both field and course work. The Department will be seeking expressions of interest from polytechnics, including Tai Poutini Polytechnic on the West Coast, for provision of the course work in the coming months. The first intake of apprentices is intended for 1999. Details of the size of the apprenticeship programme and the balance of course and field work will be worked through in the coming months.

"The apprenticeship programme is primarily about improving the pool of well trained committed staff for the Department's field work. It is also symbolic of the spirit and ambition of the thirteen young people who died at Cave Creek and who were the sort of outdoors people with a love for conservation", said Mr Smith