Australia’s apprenticeship numbers flatline despite skills shortage

Australian governments have failed to address continued failings in the apprenticeship system, which exacerbates the skills shortage facing employers, according to a report published yesterday by the Australian Industry Group.

The report identifies “structural” problems to the training system, which have resulted in the number of apprenticeships flat-lining for over a decade despite solid growth in Australia’s population over that period, and a continued shortage for technical skills.

Apprenticeships continue to be treated differently in different states, making it difficult for national businesses to manage them.

And only one in two apprenticeship students complete their training, at considerable cost.

This is despite 33% of businesses surveyed saying their biggest skills shortage is ‘technicians and trades workers’.

“The last detailed report we did on this was in 2006, though we regularly survey businesses on the issue. In that time, not enough has changed,” the director of education and training at Ai Group, Megan Lilly, told SmartCompany.

Lilly says the apprenticeship system is as vital as ever to Australia’s skills development.

“Apprenticeships are quite a demanding, intense method of skill development, and they’re done on the job,” she said. “They’re essential for our economy and incredibly relevant.

“Fundamentally the system is too complicated and confusing, and there are too many different and unnecessarily relationships and administrative roles throughout it.

“The system should be focused on connecting apprentices with employers.”

One difficulty in the system is that different Australia jurisdictions treat some accreditations as apprenticeships, and others treat the same thing as a traineeship. This is despite traineeships in some states involving primarily classroom learning, with occasional trips to a work site, whereas apprenticeships involve at least a full year working full-time with an employer.

“It’s all very complicated,” Lilly says. “In some jurisdictions they’re the same thing and in others they’re not. It’s unnecessarily difficult for national employers to deal with.”

The Ai Group has called on the government to develop national standards to deal with this.

Also yesterday, Ai Group, along with the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the country’s peak union body, presented to politicians a joint compact affirming the importance of Industry Training Packages.

Industry Training Packages are developed in consultation with industry and specify what skills graduates of different certificates should learn upon completion.

The three signatories all agreed that “countries that out-skill us will out-compete us in what’s widely recognised as a global skills race.”

“We need the VET system and policy makers to understand that Industry Training Packages aren’t just a codification of skills and knowledge needed to work effectively in a given job role, they’re one of industry’s most prized strategic assets in building a world class workforce and securing our position in the global economy.”

These are the latest in several calls to improve Australia’s workplace training system.

In December, a report written by an expert panel for government body Apprenticeships Australia stressed the apprenticeships system needed “significant improvement”.

That report also flagged “unacceptably low” completion rates (around 48%), the high level of “administrative confusion” and complexity of the system, and a misalignment between the apprenticeships system and the industrial relations framework in Australia.

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