The National Centre for Vocational Education and Research (NCVER) has just released a timely piece on post-school apprenticeships and traineeships. It suggests that completions and completion rates are still a concern, and that incentives play an important role in encouraging and supporting apprenticeships and traineeships, but these need to be carefully calibrated.

School-based apprenticeships and traineeships or those falling outside the formal contract of training model, were excluded from the work, however.

Bringing a lot of research together

This paper, authored by NCVER’s John Stanwick, Maree Ackehurst and Kelly Frazer, brings together existing research evidence to discuss what might be considered the ‘enduring issues’ around this important form of training. After all, it’s the part of VET that most people recognize!

It concentrates on five key issues: (1) congestion (too many VET stakeholders) and harmonisation (lack of consistency across states and territories), (2) completions, (3) incentive payments and other supports to employers and apprentices/trainees, (4) the interface between the apprentice/trainee and training providers, and (5) the relevance of the current model of apprenticeship training (thanks to TDA’s newsletter for this useful summary of the issues).

The key issues one by one

The first issue is VET’s congested landscape and confusing system. As the paper points out:

‘The large number of stakeholders in the system has led to a congested training landscape and associated employer and apprentice confusion. Similarly, the lack of consistency of approaches across states and territories (lack of harmonisation) has made the apprenticeship system difficult to navigate for national employers.’

The second is that the data clearly show ‘that those who complete have, on
average, better outcomes than those who don’t.’ That’s the good news. However, the trends in completion rates are interesting too, with data over the last 20 years showing changes in both the completion rates overall and the rates of those that completed early.

The paper points out that ‘completions steadily increased and peaked in 2012—13 for the non-trades and in 2013—14 for the trades and have declined since then, particularly for the non-trades.’ It was also found that ‘the proportion of trade apprenticeships completed within two years or fewer began increasing from 2007—08 and peaked in 2013—14 at 46% of all completions, before declining.’ This may have been because of the winding up of the Australian Accelerated Apprenticeships Initiative Program, which ran from 2011 to 2016.

The third issue is incentives and, while they can be advantageous and get employers into the system, the research also shows that ‘poorly targeted incentives can lead to increased uptake but can also have unintended consequences and lead to inferior outcomes for apprentices and trainees.’

Fourth, it’s about how employers and external training providers’ ‘interface’. The research always acknowledges the important role that off-the-job training plays but, as the paper suggests, ‘there are challenges in coordinating it with the on-the-job component, aligning the training and assessment, and ensuring that the off-the-job component accords with what is being learned in the workplace.’ Indeed, this was a topic at Berwyn Clayton and her colleagues looked into a little while ago in a report entitled ‘Competency progression and completion: how is the policy being enacted in three trades?

The final issue is about relevance and function, and whether or not the apprentice and traineeship system is past its ‘use by’ date? It has many positives, but contexts maybe changing, the paper argues. These include the challenges posed by Industry 4.0 and increased demands for non-technical skills, moves to notions of higher apprenticeships and changing approaches to facilitate competency-based progression and the greater use of RPL and e-learning. Online and e-learning has come to the fore during the pandemic.