A new addition to the VOCEDPlus Knowledge Bank series is Erica Smith’s Landmark Paper which takes a historical look at the apprentice and traineeship system in Australia.

It provides an excellent overview of apprentice and traineeship training in Australia. Landmarks in the Australian apprenticeship and traineeship system concludes that the apprenticeship system is essentially conservative, as it generally attempts to balance competing interests, with the result that systems are slow to change.

Erica suggests that this is perhaps why the sector’s landmark reports do not address apprenticeship’s role in innovation; or why radical ideas for reform such as those proposed by Skills Australia (2010) or COSTAC (1990), or even the suggestion by the Apprenticeships Reform Advisory Group (2010) for a thorough review of why apprenticeships have not been taken up.

Key themes

There are several themes Erica highlights: the size of the apprenticeship system and its periodic expansion, contraction and rebuilding, the participation of women in apprenticeships (particularly those in trades that have been, and are, male dominated) and the need for their numbers to be expanded, the participation of ‘adults’ where changes in financial incentives for employers have not disadvantaged employers who employ mature-aged apprentices.

Other themes include getting the balance right in terms of the purposes of apprenticeships; whether using apprenticeships primarily to address or prevent youth unemployment or addressing national or enterprise-based skill formation and development needs.

Erica rightly points to the influence of context such as “Federal-State relations, the industrial relations system, and industrial restructuring,” all of which she sees as impacting on the apprenticeship system in major ways. Other influences are there too, including:

ways of addressing shortages of applicants (e.g., through pre-apprenticeships), group apprenticeship programs of various types to provide communal solutions to common problems, support systems to prevent apprentice attrition; and passing references to the need to improve the status of apprenticeships.

One thing that we don’t see here, because it probably does not appear much in the historical literature she looked at, is the changing skill base of many trades and the questioning of whether it still remains appropriate to anchor them predominantly at the AQF 3 level. Most recently this has been expressed in discussions about introducing higher apprenticeships, an issue that we have canvassed in VDC News in the past here.

Other papers in the Landmark Paper series

These can be found here and cover topics ranging across the place of VET, governance and policy, research in VET, the VET workforce, funding, skills and knowledge and training and assessment. Others are in preparation based around the identified VET landmark documents, including equity issues and quality. These various papers have been featured in VDC News as they have been released.