A national strategy between the states is needed to fix the Vocational Education Training (VET) system, which has seen a steady decline in the uptake and completion of apprenticeships over the last five years, a new report has found.
According to the Productivity Commission report, enrolments in apprenticeships have dropped 30% over the last two years, and more than 40% of apprentices have not finished their courses since 2015.
To remedy the situation, which the report says is not yet at crisis point, the Productivity Commission has put forward a series of far-reaching recommendations needed to improve the $6.4 billion VET sector.
The report recommends that the length of apprenticeships should be shortened, where possible, because long training programs are a barrier to higher completion rates — particularly among mature-aged apprentices, who may find a three- or four-year apprenticeship too long.
Australian Hairdressing Council chief executive and board director Sandy Chong, however, notes the majority of states offer three-year hairdressing apprenticeships and lowering that timeframe would not provide enough training to beginner hairdressers.
“Even with my apprentices, I tend to extend nearly every one of them because three years is not enough time to get those skills up.”
Chong says if the length of an apprenticeship was to be reduced, there should be a graduate year where new hairdressers still receive some level of support.
Also recommended is an overhaul of financial incentives to include payments to apprentices when they finish their apprenticeship, or payments earlier in their training at times when apprentices are most likely to discontinue the program.
The federal government budgeted $4 billion to provide a 50% wage subsidy for up to one year for new and existing apprenticeships in the height of COVID-19.
The wage subsidy was only a temporary measure and will expire on March 31, 2021.
Chong supports a $2,000 incentive for any apprentice who completes their training because she feels the completion rates of hairdressers is one of the most critical issues that needs to be addressed.
“Many apprentices will leave when they have six months to go of their term, and it’s such a shame,” she says.
Chong says employers also have a role to play in helping their apprentices finish their training and should understand that institutional training is just a foundation.
“Business owners need to understand that investing in apprentices is part of a long-term plan. I think if you have a short-term plan of just using them as labour, then that’s when they leave you,” she says.
Announcing the Productivity Commission’s report, Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business Michaelia Cash said it was essential that states and territories agree on a new strategy.
“The Productivity Commission’s report confirms that the National Agreement on Skills and Workforce Development needs to be replaced so we can achieve a better return on public investment with a more transparent and consistent funding model,” Cash said.