Pathways to apprenticeships

By Tom Dumbrell Research report 8 September 2003 ISBN 1 74096 171 4


A descriptive analysis of recent pathways to apprenticeships is presented in this report. It finds pre-apprenticeship programs can play an effective role providing short-term vocational training to young people as a means of improving their chances to gaining an apprenticeship. The report is based on analysis of NCVER data and interviews with students, trainers, training experts, and representatives of industry.


Executive summary

The concept of pre-apprenticeships is neither recent nor purely an Australian creation. Their use in Australia was advocated by an industry group in 1959, and they were clearly in use by the 1970s. Their precise date of introduction has not been established, despite the research team undertaking both literature searches and personal discussions with individuals long involved in training and apprenticeships. Pre-apprenticeships were probably operating in Australia by the late 1960s.

The introduction of traineeships, following the Kirby Report in 1984, apparently diminished interest in pre-apprenticeships, given that one aim of traineeships was to provide articulation into apprenticeships. Pre-apprenticeships however, differ from traineeships in that they are not workplace-based or require expensive off-the-job training, usually accompanied by simulated workplaces. In distinct contrast to other pre-vocational courses, pre-apprenticeships provide training targeted to either a specific area of apprenticeship or a group of apprenticeships, such as construction industry apprenticeships.

Another factor contributing to the decline of pre-apprenticeships in recent years is the growth of VET-in-schools programs. Participation in school vocational education and training (VET) programs has increased strongly in recent years. Between 1996 and 1999 enrolments in school VET programs more than doubled from about 60 000 to about 130000 (ACER 2002).

Nevertheless, Malley et al. (2001, vol.2, p.45) point out that: 'In annual growth terms, the take-up of VET-in-schools enrolments is diminishing'.

Employers and training providers alike have shown concern over the ability of school-based vocational education and training provision to prepare students adequately for employment. This report does not include a detailed examination of the growth of VET-in-schools, although some data are presented on numbers involved in the program.

Studies by government agencies found that some employers are dissatisfied with the quality and suitability of applicants for apprenticeship positions, largely based on attitude, presentation and aptitude. Up to 75% of applicants for such positions were judged as unsuitable by employers. A number of organisations share the opinion that pre-apprenticeship programs can assist effectively with recruiting and retaining young people in traditional apprenticeships.

Initially the authors of this report aimed, in part at least, to map the establishment and development of pre-apprenticeships in Australia. They discovered, however, a paucity of existing literature on this topic and have been unable to meet this aim in full. This report has achieved, nonetheless, a descriptive analysis of recent pre-apprenticeship provision across Australia. It contains the findings from interviews with participants in, and providers of, pre-apprenticeship programs and identifies the role that such programs might usefully play as a component of overall VET provision.

The report findings are based on an analysis of National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) VET statistical data, supplemented by information obtained through focus groups with students and interviews with trainers and training experts and representatives from industry. The VET data were derived from a special series developed by NCVER from national VET statistical data for the period 1994 to 2000. The data were further refined by the researchers by discarding courses that were clearly not pre-apprenticeship. An important finding from this activity is that, at present, there is no fail-safe method for accurate determination of the total number of enrolments in pre-apprenticeship courses; they are one of many pathways into apprenticeships. For this reason the data presented here should be treated with caution.

Another significant observation can be made from these data, and that is that there is a wide variation in pre-apprenticeship courses across the nation. There was no consistency across states, with Queensland standing out as the highest per capita provider of pre-apprenticeship courses, especially in schools. Outside Queensland most pre-apprenticeship courses were delivered through technical and further education (TAFE) colleges. The field of study of these courses also varied markedly across the states, suggesting that there is no nationally consistent approach to pre-apprenticeship programs, although, in the period examined, engineering and construction courses predominated.

The 47 students interviewed in the study were generally positive about their courses. While some had learnt of the courses through their school, others had received no advice from schools on their availability. The latter students often found out about pre-apprenticeship courses from friends or relatives, or from newspaper advertisements. Pre-apprenticeships do not seem to be widely known in the community or among school careers advisers. Students interviewed in New South Wales and Victoria, all of whom were in courses delivered by private registered training organisations, were critical of the lack of school-based careers advice on pre-apprenticeships. Students interviewed in Western Australia who were undertaking TAFE-delivered pre-apprenticeship courses had, to some extent, been directed into their courses on the basis of advice received at school.

One problem regularly raised by students was the lack of financial support, with most ineligible for Austudy. Students gaining VET qualifications, such as certificate II, at school should be made more aware that they will be ineligible for funding support for courses of a similar level after leaving school.

Training providers and a range of other training experts contacted in the course of this study expressed a variety of views on pre-apprenticeships. There was a widespread view that pre-apprenticeships were not for everyone, and were not appropriate as an introduction to shorter new apprenticeships of one to two yearsí duration. Some also felt that the aim of pre-apprenticeship courses should be to prepare students for entry into a traditional field of apprenticeship, such as construction or engineering trades, rather than for entry to a specific apprenticeship. Criticism of school-based VET as a substitute for such courses was also widespread, as was criticism of the quality of careers advice provided in schools. On the other hand, one contact believed that schools could deliver replacement courses for pre-apprenticeships at the certificate I level. VET-in-schools courses delivered by schools are not included as pre-apprenticeship courses; however, in some states school students can undertake pre-apprenticeship courses delivered by external providers while still at school.

Many industry and training contacts held the view that changing lifestyles were having a negative impact on the capacity of young people to enter apprenticeships. They claimed that many young people no longer had access at home to hand tools or to family members who could show them how to use simple tools. Unfamiliarity with tools and the terminology of tools deterred young people from entering apprenticeships and slowed their progress in the early stages of the course. Many felt that involvement in pre-apprenticeships could remedy this deficit.

The researchers concluded that pre-apprenticeships can be an important component in a range of policies designed to encourage greater participation in traditional trade training. Improved national level co-ordination, including consistent national definitions, data collection and promotion as part of the overall new apprenticeships strategy, could improve course and career selection by young people. Improvements in these areas will need to be accompanied by more timely and appropriate information on pre-apprenticeships for schools and others influencing career decisions.

Pre-apprenticeships have the potential to act as quasi-labour market programs for young people who lack educational direction in the academic environment and who are in danger of leaving education and training at too early a stage. Such an approach could be especially effective if applied on a regional basis, targeting areas identified as having persistent youth unemployment problems.


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