Guess what’s back? NCVER released their long-awaited paper on Higher Apprenticeships in early April this year.There are a range of perspectives about them amongst stakeholders. Some hold traditional views about apprenticeships, while others have a broader perspective on how they could be modified and expanded.

We’ve been here before

Faithful readers of VDC News will know this is not the first time we have looked at this issue. As early as February 2018, we first considered higher apprenticeships as part of the possible future for the apprenticeships concept. In April that year, we had another go – looking at early efforts in the UK and new Zealand to introduce degree-based apprenticeships. Finally, in November, we showcased the Australian Industry Group’s work to boundary span apprenticeships across the VET and higher education.

This time NCVER has looked at the literature on the topic and available statistics. They also interviewed over 30 stakeholders in government, the VET and higher education sectors, unions and a range of industries. An industry forum was also held, involving industry reference committee (IRC) chairs and Service Skills Organisations (SSOs).

Defining higher apprenticeships

NCVER’s new report on Higher Apprenticeships points out that the National Partnership Agreement on Skilling Australians Fund, limit higher apprenticeships to qualifications at AQF levels 5 (diploma) and 6 (Advanced diploma).

Rightly, NCVER’s report takes a broader view, seeing higher apprenticeships as “an integrated program of structured training and paid work, leading to a VET or higher education qualification at the Australian Qualifications Framework level 5 (diploma) or above”, but which, critically, may or may not be undertaken as a contract of training.”

A key issue is whether the term ‘higher’ relates to the level of qualification or is it really about the level of skill required for the work? Also, is it a top up on a traditional apprenticeship, or is it something different? As the report points out:

“the definitions of ‘higher’ and ‘apprentice’ occupy nuanced positions — between the fixed traditions and potential evolution pertaining to both words, separate and joint.”

In short, is there a branding issue? If so, does the concept need a fancier name?

So, what’s going on now?

The Australian Government is currently funding a project, ‘Apprenticeship training — alternative delivery pilots’. Two of the pilots relate to higher apprenticeships: one involving AiG, Siemens Ltd and Swinburne University of Technology as an Industry 4.0 initiative and the other through PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) aimed at enabling participants to complete VET diplomas in fields that include business, information technology (IT) and professional services. Other initiatives are highlighted in the report too. The most recent Victorian budget is also looking at the concept.

Some key messages

First, the higher apprenticeship concept is tied strongly to a defined need and purpose, so a single one-size-fits-all model is unlikely to eventuate. Specific industry or occupational solutions are more likely to emerge – possibly within the constraints of the current system.

Second, the concept is complicated, given the boundary spanning between VET and higher education sectors which, in turn, are subject to different educational, funding and regulatory arrangements.

Finally, their successful implementation will be that they are fit for purpose for individual enterprises and have a demonstrable benefit for these employers and their employees.

Finding out more

To find out more, NCVER suggests you search VOCEDplus using the following keywords: apprenticeship; barrier; education and training needs; education and training opportunity; higher education; industry; qualifications; vocational education and training.