Apprentice completion rates go from bad to worse

The National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) has published its apprenticeship and traineeship completion rates for 2018, with this year’s results revealing a continued decline in completion rates.

The data takes commencement numbers from four years previously for trade occupations (2014) and three years previously for non-trade occupations (2015) and compares those numbers with those who have successfully completed their training contracts. (NCVER uses the terms ‘trade occupations’ and ‘non-trade occupations’ as broadly equivalent to apprenticeships and traineeships respectively).

The latest figures show the individual completion rates are 54.5 per cent for trade occupations and 57.7 per cent for non-trade occupations. For contract completions the rates are 43.1 per cent for trades and 55.0 per cent for non-trades.

The difference between individual and contract completions is that if an apprentice leaves an employer and recommences with another one, the system counts one contract cancellation and one successful completion even though the one apprentice did successfully complete. Individual completions are estimates based on various assumptions and contract completions are hard data.

When observing completion rates over the past decade, they seem to have been slightly improving for apprentices up until those who commenced in 2012, where the rate has come down markedly, from 58.8 per cent to 54.5 per cent over two years. The same thing happens for trainees, where the rate has declined from 60.9 per cent to 57.7 per cent.

What is disappointing is that the numbers haven’t really shown much improvement over the past decade. The Industry Specialist Mentoring of Australian Apprenticeships Program started in 2017 and is potentially having an effect. We won’t know for another four years and the program concludes at the end of 2019.

Ai Group has been suggesting other strategies to improve completion rates. Research shows that apprentices’ employment experiences accounted for 33 per cent of non-completions. The most commonly cited reason given by non-completing apprentices was “did not get on with boss or other people at work”[1]. This points to either poor matching at recruitment or poor supervision. That same report found that employers with the highest completion rates generally have larger, experienced companies with well-organised systems for managing and recruiting apprentices. Employers with lower completion rates tend to be operating smaller companies and have less experience.

Most employers that take on apprentices have small companies. Sixty-three per cent of employers have only one apprentice; these employers need to be supported to help their apprentices complete. They need help to improve their recruitment practices, and help to improve how they manage their apprentice after they commence, including understanding their obligations. Professional development workshops for apprentice supervisors have been trialled at different times with positive results, however they have not always reached those employers who need help the most.

Some countries, including Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland make targeted training mandatory for apprentice supervisors.

What support does your company require to ensure quality in our apprenticeship system? And, in what practical ways can industry be guided and resourced to lift completion rates? Please have your say and share your experiences by leaving a comment below.

[1] Understanding the non-completion of apprentices, Alice Bednarz, NCVER, 2014

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Peter Canavan
Peter Canavan is a senior policy officer at Ai Group, contributing to education and training policy and managing projects including the Industry 4.0 Higher Apprenticeship project. He has previously managed national projects relating to apprenticeships. Peter has over 25 years experience in the vocational training sector, and has also managed projects for the Victorian Government, including apprenticeship projects and projects supporting workers retrenched from the automotive manufacturing sector.

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