Big increases in apprenticeship numbers

The number of apprenticeship and traineeship commencements dramatically increased in the final three months of last year according to data just released by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER).

Commencements in apprenticeships for the three months ending 31 December 2020 were 27,680, compared to 11,750 for the three months ending 30 September 2020 and 9,675 for the three months ending 30 June 2020. For traineeships the numbers were more stark, with 41,640 commencing in the three months ending 31 December 2020 compared to 14,680 for the previous quarter and only 12,615 for the three months ending 30 June 2020.

Viewed as annual amounts, the numbers are surprisingly good considering the country spent much of the year in various forms of lockdowns or restrictions. 75,480 apprentices commenced during the calendar year, compared to 69,705 in 2019. For traineeships there were 91,755 commencements in 2020 – a 12.6 per cent increase on the 81,490 who commenced in 2019.

SOURCE: National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER), National Apprentice and Trainee collection

These commencement numbers reverse a trend in declining numbers that has been apparent since 2013. The catalyst for this has no doubt been the new Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements (BAC) wage subsidy, announced in the October 2020 Commonwealth budget and which has been extended to apprentices and trainees commencing until 31 March 2022. The BAC subsidy reimburses 50 per cent of the wages an employer pays a new or recommencing apprentice or trainee for a 12-month period from the date of commencement, to a maximum of $7000 per quarter.

Construction trades showed a strong improvement with an 11.9 per cent increase over the previous 12 months, however the biggest increases were in senior traineeship roles. Manager and professional commencements collectively increased by more than 104 per cent over the previous 12 months. The qualification levels reflect this increase. Certificate III qualifications, the common level for apprenticeships, increased by 4.4 per cent, while Certificate IV qualifications increased by 85.8 per cent and Diplomas and Advanced Diplomas increased by 62.3 per cent.

Nearly all of the commencements related to existing workers, whose numbers increased by 83.6 per cent over the previous 12 months compared to an increase of only 1.0 per cent for newly employed workers. The BAC subsidy rules were amended a few weeks after the program commenced to restrict eligibility for existing workers commencing traineeships.

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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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