Apprenticeship numbers show slight improvement

Recent data from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research for the March 2018 quarter has shown that there were 272,440 apprentices and trainees in training at the end of March this year.  This indicates a rise from the December 2017 quarter when the level was 256,140. This reverses the falls of the last two quarters. Even so, this latest figure is still a 1.2 per cent reduction of the data at March 2017.


There is a mixed picture concerning commencements. Overall, commencements have fallen by 0.9 per cent since 2017. In trades there has been a 4.2 per cent increase since 2017 whereas in non-trades (traineeships) there has been a fall of 4.9 per cent since last year.

In the trades area there have been significant increases in commencements for machinery operators and drivers (14.7 per cent) and automotive and engineering trades workers (13.2 per cent). Commencements for food trades workers on the other hand fell by 20.7 percent. The largest fall in the non-trades area was sales workers (23 per cent).

The data for trade commencements from 2014 to 2018 also provides a mixed picture. Commencements only increased for construction trades workers (31.2 per cent) and automotive and engineering trades workers (5.9 per cent) during this period. All other trade occupations experienced a decrease during this time. So any potential recovery is not widespread across industries and growth is heavily reliant on the construction industry. There were increases in all trade occupation commencements except food trades workers from 2017 to 2018 however.

The situation is even worse for the non-trade area of the economy. None of the identified occupations experienced growth in commencements during the 2014 to 2018 period. There were some increases from 2017 to 2018 in the following areas: machinery operators and drivers (14.7 per cent), labourers (5.1 per cent) and professionals (3.9 per cent).

So while there has been some recent improvement any optimistic assessment needs to be cautious. The fall may have been arrested but there is no evidence yet of a widespread recovery.

What is your experience of apprenticeship and traineeship participation? Are you seeing any signs of recovery?


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Michael Taylor is Ai Group’s National Policy and Projects Manager, Education and Training. He is responsible for a number of national projects across workplace literacy and numeracy, skills, and the management of a mature age workforce. Michael also contributes to policy formulation across a wide spectrum of education, training and skills.

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