Australia’s Governments are committed to improve the apprenticeship system and drive-up completions. The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR) has released a discussion paper which explores the existing services and supports and seeks views on opportunities address three key issues facing the Apprenticeships System: falling completion rates, a lack of diversity in the make-up of apprentices and growing areas of skills shortage.

An associated background paper provides further information to support readers to consider the questions outlined in the Apprenticeships Services and Supports Discussion Paper.

The issues

According to the discussion paper, completions are in steady decline, and there needs to be a greater representation amongst apprentices of First Nations Australians, women, apprentices with disability and regional Australians to achieve improved outcomes and, finally, “38 per cent of skills shortages are in occupations with a VET pathway.”

So, the key questions highlighted are:

  1. What changes are needed to drive up the completion rate?
  2. How can the services delivered better encourage and support apprentices from diverse backgrounds?
  3. How can the support services be optimised to meet the current and future needs of apprentices and employers?

A series of questions are also provided on the last page (page 21) of the discussion paper.

The discussion paper looks at the apprenticeship life cycle, including pre-apprenticeships and careers advice, sign up, year 1, off the job training, continuing the apprenticeship experience and changing their apprenticeship and their employer where necessary.

The background paper

The background paper reported that “almost four in ten employers are concerned about the quality of training their apprentices receive. In addition, they are “concerned about timely access to training and are seeking more quality and flexibility from Registered Training Organisations’ and keen to streamline processes associated with taking on an apprentice.”

Finally, they want more financial support. Employers suggest the productive contribution of apprentices can be too low to make it worth taking them on, and they are also looking for longer term returns on their ‘investment’ during and after the apprenticeship has been completed (of course, they have a responsibility to look after the apprentice, and that does not always happen!).

Apprentices are “concerned about low wages and their ability to meet the cost of living” but “value personalised assistance to manage mental health and workplace issues, with regular contact from a trusted advisor.” In a previous article we noted issues with workplace culture and bullying of apprentices and the importance of good support. And, as the background paper notes:

“In a tight labour market apprentices have options – moving for more pay or dissatisfaction with the workplace are the most common reasons for leaving.”

Australia’s current labour shortages mean that unskilled work can be paid at higher levels than training wages, so there is a short-term incentive to go for the money at the possible expense of a longer-term benefit.

The critical time is the first year or so of the apprenticeship but that there are strategies that can help, the paper reports. These can be as simple as receiving SMSs about building self-efficacy and get a ‘fair go’ at work (e.g. seeking mentorship, finalising their training plan, and other workplace rights) or about available incentives such as. travel concessions, pay progression, and early completion. The ‘Fair go’ ones were found to be more effective, however.

The paper also provided information about the key services available to support Australian apprentices, roles and responsibilities of governments and both employers and industry, incentives, support network providers and “supplementary programs help to deliver targeted wraparound support, to help apprentices to navigate the system and address additional barriers.”

Getting involved

Written submissions are sought by 16 December 2022. Submissions can be provided via this online form.

Throughout the discussion paper, questions are raised to foster discussion. Submissions may address one or more of the questions or issues raised in this paper or provide a more general response.

Submissions will be supplemented by facilitated roundtables and targeted consultation with states, territories and key stakeholders.