Are apprenticeship degrees an answer to worker capability moving forward?

Ai Group is modelling its recent calls to integrate trades skills into higher level qualifications by managing a pilot program that shakes up the current apprenticeship model.

Under the pilot with Siemens and Swinburne University, higher-level technical skills in engineering, technology and innovation will enable participants to transition to the new Industry 4.0 economy. Industry 4.0 is about the next stage in manufacturing driven by digitisation and will connect the impact of emerging technologies and digitisation across all industries such as energy, transport and infrastructure.

It is important, however, that the high-level cognitive skills needed for industry are accompanied by advanced social, critical thinking and adaptability skills. While cognitive skills dominated by STEM will undoubtedly be essential in the future, the integration of people skills will be just as important in a new order in which workers will be interacting with each other – and with artificial beings – in real and virtual ways across the globe.

Ai Group’s pilot is also significant because it champions learning based in industry. Such work-integrated experiential learning opportunities are growing across Australia, and many other countries, as rapid changes are quickly making institution-based equipment and methods obsolete in education. New recruits need to be trained in the latest industry methods with the most advanced technologies.

Recent reports from the UK are predicting significant increases in the apprenticeship degree program introduced in 2015. A survey report of 66 universities indicates an increase of degree apprenticeships from 640 in 2015-16 to 4,850 in 2017-18.

Ai Group’s Industry 4.0 Higher Apprenticeships Project is a practical example of a new apprenticeship program that pre-empts future needs. Australia needs to continue to trial new arrangements such as this and continue to monitor and learn from relevant overseas experience.

Ai Group has been in the business of Apprenticeships for over 100 years and offers an extensive Apprentice program Australia wide – more information can be found at:

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Anne joined Ai Group as an economist and is currently our General Manager, Education and Training. She is responsible for policy development and major projects addressing members’ education and training issues. Anne previously managed Ai Group's national team of Enterprise Connect Business Advisers charged with helping SMEs to improve productivity. Holding a Master of Education (Educational Leadership and Management) and a Bachelor of Economics, Anne worked for over 25 years in the VET sector in policy, research, training and quality management roles before joining Ai Group. She is a Board member of Innovation and Business Skills Australia (IBSA).


  1. David Fox

    Great article to start a conversation in an area that is fast become a significant challenge for businesses providing products requiring traditional trades, and have ambitions to enhance their offering through technology opportunities. As digital capability moves into both manufacturing processes and finished products the line between engineering and the trades, that make the ‘thing’ in the Internet of Things is becoming blurred. In our view metal trades and its apprenticeship model is fast becoming challenged, as is the idea that a subject-orientated design-based degree in a ‘STEM’ field should exclude a) aspects of creativity and the arts, and b) cross discipline project experiences. As we contemplate the future of our manufacturing business (L & A Pressure Welding), we are concerned how we will attract new talent into an industry that largely has an out of date workplace model, and how we will achieve the blend of talent we see necessary to design, manufacture and service digitally enhanced products in a way that aligns with our customers’ values.

    1. Anne Younger (Post author)

      Thank you for providing an on-the-ground perspective to your challenges in response to the blog’s discussion of higher level skill needs.

      The higher level apprenticeship program being trialled through the Ai Group pilot hopefully would address your challenges, so we look forward to a refined model being rolled out for industry.

      The pilot program includes topics such as:
      • Working in Industry 4.0
      • Engineering Skills for Industry 4.0
      • CAD / CAM and Engineering Materials
      • Industrial Networking and Cloud Computing
      • Electrical Systems
      • Industrial Control Systems
      • Digital Control Systems
      • Cyber Physical System Integration.

      It is envisaged the students graduating from this program may be employed in the following types of roles: Cyber Physical Systems Technologist, Industry 4.0 Systems Engineer, Mechatronic/Manufacturing Engineer, Internet of Things Data Creative or Cloud Architect.


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