The Morrison government must take urgent steps to bolster apprenticeship commencements or risk a damaging skill shortage, warns MEGT’s Paul Bennett.
Bennett, general manager of MEGT’s Apprentice Network Provider, tells SmartCompany that while the JobKeeper and apprenticeship wage subsidy programs have helped retain existing apprentices during the COVID-19 pandemic, a worrying trend of falling commencements has worsened in recent months.
“Support for apprentices and trainees has been a focused retention strategy by the federal government, so it’s not really focused on creating new positions,” Bennett tells SmartCompany.
“We’re hoping that will be something we’ll see in the coming months … they’re saying the budget is going to be very much about job creation and we’re hoping apprenticeships and traineeships fall under that umbrella.”
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According to National Australian Apprenticeship Association (NAAA) figures, the number of new apprentices fell 20% from March to June, meaning about 12,000 people were either stood down, suspended or cancelled their apprenticeships amid the coronavirus crisis.
The NAAA figures show Australia is approaching the lowest level of apprentice commencements since the late-1990s.
Falling apprenticeship commencements was a trend before the pandemic hit, but now exacerbated, Bennett says there is a risk of significant skill shortages if nothing is done to address the issue.
“The biggest risk is a lack of a skilled workforce, both in trades and also in non-trade sectors, to help drive Australia’s economic rebound,” Bennett says.
The federal government has already flagged additional support for apprenticeship commencements ahead of the 2020-21 budget, set to be announced under its JobMaker and JobTrainer programs, which were unveiled earlier this year.
Bennett says a planned overhaul of vocational training must look not only at bolstering commencements across existing industries, but also at pointing the sector towards emerging markets.
“It’s about establishing a more responsive vocational education and training sector,” he says.
“It needs to be more aligned to current skill shortages and emerging industries, these new roles and conditions and new types of work being formed all the time due to technology changes.
“It’s about establishing a more agile and responsive system.”