Apprenticeship crisis ‘a myth’ – report

by Brett Henebery21 Aug 2017
Many high-profile comments from the past twelve months have overstated the level of decline in apprenticeships, a new report claims.

The report by the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University said that when debating VET and skills policy, the term ‘apprenticeships’ is commonly misused.

Professor of Tertiary Education Policy, Peter Noonan, said that the term is often used by people referring to both traditional trade-based apprenticeships and traineeships, despite the two being different systems.

“Politicians and industry leaders understand the difference between apprenticeships and traineeships, but often present information relating to both as being about apprenticeships only,” Professor Noonan said.

“This creates a misleading picture about the state of the traditional trade-based apprenticeship system.”

He said that when looking at apprenticeships alone, the situation is “not nearly as serious as most claims suggest.”

Apprenticeships are largely focused on trades, such as electrical, plumbing, construction, commercial cooking and automotive repair, while traineeships cover a wider range of occupations – mainly in the services and personal care sectors.

The report says that when separating the two systems, findings “show no sign of a ‘crisis’ around apprenticeships” and in fact, some trade apprenticeships increased over recent years.

Furthermore, the report notes that declines in apprenticeships in specific industries were due to external factors, not a result of reductions in government funding – although both sides of politics and industry bodies have claimed the latter.

Traineeships, which aim to address youth unemployment, were used by more people aged 45 and over than people aged 20-24 in 2012 (43,000 compared to 41,000).

This growth was in ‘existing worker’ traineeships, driven by government employer incentives. The Labor Government addressed this issue in 2012, tightening eligibility for employer incentives and focusing on skills shortage areas and labour market priorities. This soundly based decision resulted in a decline in traineeships from 2012.

Professor Noonan said misleading claims about apprenticeships and traineeships are distracting from the factors that should help inform policy decisions.

“If we have learned anything about the VET system in recent years it is that incentives should only be provided where there is demonstrable public benefit, not to create a market in government subsidies,” he said.

“Both apprenticeships and traineeships play a critical role in building the skills base for our future workforce – this is the only goal that should determine reform.”

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