( dpa )- New Zealand's Labour -led government will raise the minimum school-leaving age from 16 to 18 if it is re-elected this year, Prime Minister Helen Clark said on Wednesday.
In a policy move designed "to realise the full potential of our young people", she said 16 and 17-year-olds would be able to join apprenticeship schemes to get work skills and qualifications if they did not remain at school.
Clark said that 29 per cent of New Zealand students left school before their 17th birthday and 40 per cent left without any formal education qualification.
"Around half our current workforce does not have the education and skills needed to function fully in a knowledge economy," she said.
"In a time of near full employment, those without qualifications can still find work. But a low skills base stops us growing the value of the economy and lifting our living standards to their full potential."
Clark's announcement followed a new hardline policy designed to crack down on youth crime revealed by John Key, leader of the opposition conservative National Party, on Tuesday.
Key said a National government would introduce tougher sentences, army-style boot camps and electronic surveillance tags for persistent young offenders. School leavers aged 16 and 17 who were not working or undergoing training would be refused welfare benefits.
The National Party is bidding to stop Clark - who has led the country since 1999 - getting a fourth three-year term in power at the election which must be held by November.