Apprenticeship data show mixed results

Apprentice and trainee commencements are on the rise according to the latest data from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER).

Their latest data cover the quarter ending 31 December 2017, and show commencements increased by 7.6 per cent compared to the same quarter in 2016. At the same time, completions decreased by 8.4 per cent.

Looking at the previous 12 months ending 31 December 2017, compared with the 12 months ending 31 December 2016, commencements decreased by 1.7 per cent and completions decreased by 3.7 per cent, reflecting a general downwards trend. Trade commencements showed a slight increase.

There were 256,140 apprentices and trainees in-training nationally as at 31 December 2017. This represents a fall of 2.8 per cent compared to the December 2016 level and continues the downward trend of apprentices/trainees in-training.

The graph below shows in-training numbers for trade and non-trade occupations, which broadly match apprenticeships and traineeships respectively. The steep decline in traineeships to 2015 is ascribed mainly to the reduction in Commonwealth incentives for existing workers and traineeships not considered to be high priority, or on the national skills needs list.

Australian training activity December 2013 –December 2017

Source: Apprentices and trainees 2017, December quarter, NCVER

Source: Apprentices and trainees 2017, December quarter, NCVER

The biggest changes are found when looking at particular occupations and particular states. In the engineering sector, sheetmetal trades (including structural steel and welding) commencements increased by 18.8% compared to the previous year but cooks have declined by 16.6%. Some key trades and their commencement data are shown below.


There are significant variations in the states. In NSW, mechanical engineering trade commencements increased by 16.1% over the previous 12 months while in Victoria they decreased by 27.8%. Key trade commencements by state are shown below.


Increases in construction trade commencements may reflect recent government expenditure on big infrastructure projects, and their requirement for minimum percentages of apprentices in employment numbers.

Also of interest are commencements for new employees compared to existing workers (defined as employees with a three month or more full-time equivalent employment relationship with their employer). Most of the decline in trade commencements over the past five years has been in existing workers commencing an apprenticeship. For most trades, government incentives are paid regardless of whether the apprentice is a new or existing employee. Perhaps there is another explanation.


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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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