Apprenticeship policy is a significant issue in vocational training. Over the past 20 years apprenticeships have expanded beyond trades, making the transition from school to work easier and assisting young unemployed people. This was motivated by strong evidence of the value of work-integrated learning.

But this approach has been undermined by state and federal policy decisions in recent years, including cuts to employer incentives and support for union-driven wage increases. This has resulted in a sharp fall in the commencements of non-trades apprenticeships since July 2012. They are now at the lowest level since 1999.

Youth unemployment is rising at an alarming rate, particularly in regional areas. This demonstrates the need for more opportunities for qualifications to be earned with embedded work and employment experience. We need to encourage employers to offer these opportunities.

This includes realistic wages for first-year apprentices and trainees, and a review of the barriers posed by complex regulatory and support arrangements. Commencements are important, as is improving rates of completion, such as through the apprenticeship mentoring now part of apprenticeship services.

Continued access to funding encourages employers to deliver recognised national qualifications to their staff; unfortunately investment by all governments in Vocational Education and Training (VET) has decreased over recent years as has the commitment for the system to be industry-driven. The discontinuation of the Industry Skills Fund in the 2016-17 MYEFO has removed a fundamentally good policy approach to continued training and investment in Australia’s workforce.

Australian Chamber policies for VET include:

  • A core principle of the VET sector needs to be an industry-led competency based system built around occupational skill standards.
  • Create a platform for industry to validate and work with Governments on the shared vision and plan for the future of VET.
  • Increase funding by all Governments in VET to recognise the sector’s important role in meeting labour market needs and improving workplace productivity.
  • To address the dramatic fall in apprenticeships and traineeships arising from the pandemic, provide additional wage subsidies and other supports and incentives to retain apprentices and incentivise their commencement.
  • Leverage the apprenticeship investment through the Skilling Australians Fund in order to implement an industry-led national approach to apprenticeships and traineeships that restores growth in commencements and completions in order to maximise the benefits of a proven model of structured training and work experience underpinned by industrial arrangements that provide a training wage.
  • Establish a national apprenticeship advisory body to work with Governments to implement the Skilling Australians Fund and to provide advice on growing apprenticeships across the board.
  • Strengthen industry representation on the Australian Industry & Skills Committee and ensure Industry Reference Committees are strongly reflective of industry. Standards for providers require industry engagement in order for the system to deliver outcomes that meet the needs of the labour market.
  • Ensure training package development process is responsive to industry through a competitive market for Skilled Service Organisation services, and that the VET system is agile and flexible in its implementation, to deal with the needs of each industry sector while at the same time being mindful of the considerable cost of frequent change. Ensure that the new concept of Skills Organisation meets the needs of Industry.
  • Continue to support student and employer choice of VET providers in order to ensure providers perform to the standards required by industry and remain responsive to the needs of students.
  • Implement a transparent approach to VET funding and policy development to improve consistency and skills outcomes, and minimise inefficiency and duplication between the activities of the Federal, State and Territory governments.
  • Maintain a strong focus on quality across the education and training system, through the professional development of teacher/trainer, strong institutions and effective and sufficiently resourced national regulators. Performance and Excellence criteria should be introduced for RTO’s via an industry-driven star rating system once minimum standards have been consistently achieved.
  • Highlight the value of skill sets to provide training focused on employer needs and support the funding of skill set training in the system.
  • Improve funding equity between the VET and Higher Education sectors.

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