Crisis looms for apprenticeship system

Melissa Jenkins
(Australian Associated Press)

Industry groups want the federal government to stump up cash to rescue the apprenticeship system from the brink of crisis.

The number of apprentices and trainees in Australia almost halved between June 2012 and June 2016, the Business Council of Australia, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Australian Industry Group said.

They are urging the government to commit to a new National Partnership Agreement worth $1.75 billion over five years, as the current deal is due to expire in the coming months.

The agreement should create a genuine national system for apprenticeships, and better align state funding and services for apprenctices, the groups said.

Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott says a new agreement is needed to modernise the system and tackle the 45 per cent drop in the number of apprentices and trainees in training.

“This represents a system on the tipping point of crisis and the stark numbers of apprentices falling away from the system make it clear that we need to improve its performance,” she said.

Peter Noonan, a professor of tertiary education policy at Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute, says apprenticeships need to be expanded to cover growing industries like services, information technology and advanced manufacturing.

Any new agreement should also include a guarantee that the states won’t continue to cut Vocational Education and Training (VET) funding, which they have done recently when faced with pressure from other budget areas.

“It’s been VET that’s been squeezed in almost every state,” Prof Noonan said.

Some 299,000 people were in vocational training courses in 2012, which dropped to 106,000 by last June, according to figures from the National Centre for Vocational Education and Research.

There were 215,000 apprentices in 2012, compared with 176,000 four years later.

Prof Noonan said the drop in traineeships was probably linked to the withdrawal of government funding, while the decline in apprenticeships was probably due to the end of the mining boom, a manufacturing downturn and weaker labour market.

Jennifer Fitzpatrick is a third year electrical apprentice in Melbourne, and was a teacher before she swapped industries.

She said her Bachelor of Education made it more difficult to get an apprenticeship because it meant she was required to pay more to gain a pre-apprenticeship qualification.

“It becomes a stumbling block because of the way that I think the government currently runs apprenticeships, it’s significantly harder for adults who have done further studies in their early years straight out of school to actually make that change,” Ms Fitzpatrick said.


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