Apprenticeships crisis a myth

One of the most common arguments in the vocational education and training (VET) debate, claimed by both sides of politics and industry leaders, has been debunked.

A new report by Mitchell Institute at Victoria University finds that many high-profile comments from the past twelve months have overstated the level of decline in apprenticeships.

Professor of Tertiary Education Policy, Peter Noonan explained that when debating VET and skills policy, the term ‘apprenticeships’ is commonly misused.

“We often hear ‘apprenticeship’ used by people referring to both traditional trade-based apprenticeships and traineeships, but they are two different systems,” Professor Noonan said.

“Politicians and industry leaders understand the difference between apprenticeships and traineeships, but often present information relating to both as being about apprenticeships only – creating a misleading picture about the state of the traditional trade-based apprenticeship system.

“When looking at apprenticeships alone, the situation is not nearly as serious as most claims suggest.”

The report explains that apprenticeships are largely in the trades; areas like electrical, plumbing, construction, commercial cooking and automotive repair. While traineeships cover a wider range of occupations, mainly in the services and personal care sectors, like hospitality and childcare.

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.

“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.”

Media contact: Julia Johnston, 03 9919 4549, 0401 136 114, Julia.Johnston@vu.edu.au