A chance to be bold and ambitious: make apprenticeships the lynchpin to a better integrated tertiary education sector

8 June 2017

Opinion piece

Dr Craig Fowler & Dr John Stanwick, National Centre for Vocational Education Research


The latest federal government budget has put the spotlight firmly on apprenticeships and traineeships through the announcement of the Skilling Australians Fund.i This fund, in the order of $1.5 billion over four years, ‘when matched with funding from the States, will support up to 300 000 more apprentices, trainees, and higher level skilled Australians over the next four years’.ii The Fund will be targeted at ‘priority occupations and growth industries. These include but are not limited to key industries right across Australia, like tourism and hospitality, health and ageing, agriculture, engineering, manufacturing, building and construction, and the digital technologies'.iii

A further $60 million is proposed for Industry Specialist Mentoring for Australian Apprentices.iv The program aims to increase retention among apprentices, particularly in their first two years, and to support the supply of skilled workers in industries undergoing structural change.

These budget announcements herald an opportunity for re-invigoration of the system. In willing the nation to best benefit from this opportunity, this paper highlights pertinent issues from current and past apprenticeship schemes.

The caution to be drawn from the recent past is that there is already significant public investment in apprentices and trainees by way of Commonwealth, state and territory inputs, plus industry and employer investment. This combined system investment is in funds and incentives; advice; support and networks; training; systems administration; employment and supervision.

Despite this collective effort, national performance data as measured by commencements, ‘in-training’ and completions show a system in malaise, even with sharpened policy and investment to rectify identified issues. If apprenticeship completion rates can be enhanced the new funds will yield a greater return on a significant public and private investment. This will require all parties, including governments, industry, employers and training organisations, to contribute to this effort.

It would be far better if the budget announcement is used as an opportunity to make agreed changes that will deliver a far more enticing opportunity to young Australians and higher quality apprenticeships and traineeships to better meet the skill needs of Australia’s employers. It’s not just numbers — it’s as much about new opportunity and higher quality and performance standards.

To stimulate thinking about the future, the paper concludes by looking to future bolder and more ambitious opportunities, including ones related to announcements in the Budget’s Higher Education Reform Packagev and the nation’s innovation and science agenda. There is potential for apprenticeships to become the lynchpin in a better integrated tertiary education sector that delivers work-ready and innovative graduates.

i Australian Government 2017, Budget measures. Budget paper no. 2 2017-18, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, viewed May 2017, <http://www.budget.gov.au/2017-18/content/bp2/html/>.
ii Ibid, p.89.
iii Australia, Senate, Debates 2017: questions without notice (employment), 10 May 2017, p. 52, viewed 22 May 2017, <http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;adv=yes;orderBy=customrank;page=0;query=%22priority%20occupations%22%20(Date%3A10%2F05%2F2017%20%3E%3E%20)%20Dataset%3Ahansards,hansards80,hansardsIndex;rec=0;resCount=Default>.
iv Department of Education and Training 2015, Industry Specialist Mentoring for Australian Apprenticeships, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, viewed May 2017, <https://www.australianapprenticeships.gov.au/programs/industry-specialist-mentoring>.
v Department of Education and Training 2017, Higher education reform package, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, viewed May 2017, <https://www.education.gov.au/higher-education-reform-package-0>


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