Getting the apprenticeship pathway back on track

Ai Group recently turned a spotlight on Australian Apprenticeships through the release of the Making Apprenticeships Work policy statement, which highlights the severe decline in commencements and those in training.

Apprenticeships have a significant impact on the Australian economy, providing the backbone of our production line of highly valued and adaptable skilled tradespeople. As Grant Anderson, Group CEO of ANCA, says in the policy statement:

“Many of the senior management at ANCA started their working life as an apprentice and we understand the importance of this learning pathway. Apprenticeships are the foundation of the development of careers in engineering.”

Yet the latest Apprentices and Trainees report from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER), for the September 2015 quarter, highlights that there were only 295,300 apprentices and trainees in training – a decrease of over 13% on the same period the previous year and the lowest level of participation for a decade. It is the same story for commencements. The proportion of Australian workers employed as an apprentice or trainee has fallen to a worryingly low 2.7% of total employment. Australian apprentices and trainees now only make up 9.7% of all those participating in the entire Vocational Education and Training (VET) system.

Without urgent and meaningful intervention, the apprenticeship system in Australia will continue to underperform and fail to deliver for business and the community. A key challenge for Government is addressing these inconsistencies in the system, and making a commitment to facilitate greater engagement by industry and young people in this vital training pathway.

There is a need to find ways to improve and expand this work-based pathway into other industry and occupation areas and to encourage young people to consider an apprenticeship as a viable career option. In the UK, for example, “higher apprenticeships” have been introduced at a higher qualification level and in a wider range of different industries. This has boosted their numbers in apprenticeships. We should undertake some trials of similar arrangements and see if they work in Australia.

For our part, Ai Group has proposed an action plan. The adoption of these recommendations by all is essential to give the apprenticeship system the drive it needs:

  • Employer incentives: implement employer incentives for those employers not currently engaged with Australian Apprenticeships to address the significant decline.
  • Supporting New Employers and Completions: focus on supporting first-time employers of apprentices and provide funding support through Joint Group Training Program Funding to GTO’s.
  • Linking to Higher Level Qualifications: trial a range of measures that link apprenticeships to higher-level qualifications in the VET and Higher Education sector.
  • Expanding the Labour Market for Apprentices: investigate the introduction of ‘higher apprenticeship’ models which provide this pathway to a wider range of industries.
  • Implement Competency Based Progression and Completions: implement a national communication strategy to develop mechanisms to facilitate RTOs to promote the outcomes.
  • National Consistency and Complexity: establish a national industry-led oversighting body to drive the national Australian Apprenticeships policy.
  • Participation in Apprenticeship Pathways: clearly define and support pre-apprenticeship programs as well as develop measures to support school-based apprenticeships.

What do you think about the state of Australian Apprenticeships? What do you think can be done to arrest this slide? What measures would you support? Add your comments below to start the conversation.

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Christian Vega
Christian Vega is a recent graduate in business and marketing from Swinburne University of Technology. He is currently working with Ai Group's Education and Training Policy Team.


  1. AvatarAuke Roelink

    I commenced my working life as an apprentice in the early 80’s and have progressed though companies into managerial roles.
    During my working life I have seen many changes. I believe the transition, in the 1980s, away from TAFEs and single employer centric apprenticeships to a model of Traineeships, Group Training Schemes and enterprise RTOs has resulted in a diminution of both the quality of training provided and also the commitment of many employers to providing effective, broad based, trade skills to their apprentices.
    In many cases there appears to be a trend in requiring government assistance before any consideration is given to engaging apprentices.
    When combined with current societal trends where students are actively groomed by parents and educational establishments to see no future other than University, regardless of their academic ability or leanings, apprenticeships will continue to be seen as the distant poor cousin.
    I feel organisations need to wake up and realise look beyond the balance sheet benefit an apprentice may provide through cheap labour and invest in the short term for the benefit of society in the future.
    We need schools to be realistic when assessing the capability of students and guide them, and their parents, in an appropriate direction which will match the students career choices with their capabilities.
    We need to expose apprentices to consistent, measurable, skills transfer opportunities across the range of possible work they will undertake in their trade as part of their apprenticeship.
    And finally, we need to nurture apprentices giving them hugs, kisses and kicks when and where appropriate so that they grow into confident, capable, learning tradespeople.

    1. Michael TaylorMichael Taylor

      A number of valid points have been raised here. It has proven to be difficult in recent times for some employers to commit to apprenticeship training. This is where the notion of employer incentives becomes relevant. We know that few employers will provide an apprenticeship place just because they receive an incentive. Nevertheless, they remain important as an acknowledgement of the high costs encountered. As highlighted in the policy statement we think the best use of employer incentives is to encourage first-time users of the program. Incentives in combination with other measures designed to reduce cost provide assistance to employers. Many employers take the long view of investing in important skills for the economy of the future. Others are too stretched in the current economic climate to be able to undertake the financial commitment of an apprentice. Group training schemes can be of assistance here as they help to defray the cost as well as providing other benefits.

      Apprenticeships have suffered in comparison to university pathways for a long time and it remains difficult to convince parents of the benefits of apprenticeships. Schools and career teachers, as you rightly point out, have an inherent leaning towards university pathways. It is what they know best. Perhaps a key way forward is to spread the apprenticeships into other non-traditional industries and more closely link them to university study or higher level VET qualifications. This would have the potential benefit of attracting a new cohort of young people and their parents to consider this option. What do you think?


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