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Traditional trade apprenticeships: experiences and outcomes

By Josie Misko, Michelle Circelli, Zhaoyi Gu Research report 9 September 2020 978-1-925717-55-6

Description

This report is the final component of a broader study on traditional trade apprenticeships. It looks at the experiences of the traditional trade apprentice and in doing so focuses primarily on the findings from the 2019 Apprentice and Trainee Experience and Destination survey, with data from the 2010 survey also included, where relevant, to examine any changes over time. The report investigates the experiences and outcomes of apprentices who did and did not complete their traditional trade apprenticeship. Relevant discussion from the focus groups of apprentices, undertaken for the second phase, are also included.

Summary

About the research

The apprenticeship model of work-based training is often held up as an effective mechanism for enabling individuals to learn specific skills and subsequently transition to employment in a skilled occupation. Over time, technological, regulatory and social changes have affected the training of apprentices. It is in this context that NCVER undertook a three-phase study to investigate the demand for traditional trade apprentices and determine whether the training they receive meets current needs.

The first phase of the broader study examined the context for traditional trade apprenticeships in Australia, revealing trends in training activity and completions, and describing the application of current and past government incentives. This phase also detailed international apprenticeship models and practices to enable a comparison with Australian approaches. The second phase presented the outcomes from in-depth interviews and focus groups, in which employers, trainers, apprentices and relevant government officials discussed issues relating to various aspects of apprenticeship training. This final component of the project draws primarily on findings from the 2019 Apprentice and Trainee Experience and Destinations Survey to examine the experiences of the traditional trade apprentices themselves. Qualitative data from the focus groups of traditional trade apprentices in the second phase of the broader study are used to highlight the experience of, and give voice to, the traditional trade apprentice.

Key messages

  • Traditional trade apprentices report high levels of satisfaction with the off-the-job training they receive, irrespective of whether they complete their apprenticeship.
  • Those who do not complete a traditional trade apprenticeship predominantly cite employment-related reasons for leaving their apprenticeship, highlighting how critical the role of the employer is in supporting apprentice completion.
  • Completing a traditional trade apprenticeship results in good employment outcomes. In 2019, over 90% of traditional trade apprentices who completed their apprenticeships were employed, compared with about 75% of non-completers. Completers also fared better than non-completers in staying employed with the same employer as their apprenticeship and having a higher median annual income.

Simon Walker
Managing Director

Executive summary

This report is the final component of a broader study undertaken in three phases, the first two of which are described briefly below. It looks at the experiences of the traditional trade apprentice and in doing so focuses primarily on findings from the 2019 Apprentice and Trainee Experience and Destinations Survey, with data from the 2010 survey included, where relevant, to examine changes over time. The survey allows us to investigate the experiences and outcomes of apprentices who did and those who did not complete their traditional trade apprenticeship. Where appropriate, findings from the focus groups of apprentices conducted in 2019 as part of the second report (Misko & Wibrow 2020) are included to examine in more detail the experience of the traditional trade apprentice.

In this research, a traditional trade apprenticeship was identified as applying to the following occupations: building trades; electrotechnology and telecommunications trades; engineering trades;
food trades; motor mechanic, repairer and vehicle builder trades; precision trades; skilled animal
and horticultural workers; and other traditional trades (for example, hairdressers, cabinet-makers, printers etc).

The first phase of the broader study focused on trends in training activity over the period 2012 to 2018, including completions, along with an analysis of the application of current and past government incentives, and some comparisons with apprenticeship systems used overseas. The analysis of trend data found that demand for traditional trade apprentices has been relatively stable over the last 15 years, with changes generally reflecting the prevailing economic conditions. Similarly, the investigation of government incentives for employers of traditional trade apprentices also found these to have remained stable, despite various changes to the overall apprenticeship incentives scheme. In real terms, however, they have actually decreased (Misko 2020).

Through in-depth interviews and focus groups, the second phase collated qualitative data on those elements of apprenticeship training that the key players (that is, employers, trainers, relevant government officials and apprentices) perceived to be effective, or otherwise, and those areas that need improvement. This study found that, in the main, the key players remain supportive of the current combination of off- and on-the-job training under a contract of training. Both these forms of training were acknowledged as providing apprentices with the technical skills that underpin the knowledge, attributes and behaviours necessary for their trades. However, a key challenge is that the increasing specialisation in some industries means it is becoming more difficult to align the off-the-job learning content with tasks being done on the job (Misko & Wibrow 2020).

Findings

The experience of undertaking a traditional trade apprenticeship

The main reasons cited for starting a traditional trade apprenticeship in both 2019 and 2010 were employment-related, for example, wanting a job or wanting to work in a particular type of job.

For those who did not complete an apprenticeship, the main reasons for non-completion changed very little between the 2010 and 2019 surveys, with employment-related reasons continuing to be the key concern. In 2010, it was highly likely that the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) had an impact on their ability to continue, with a higher proportion than in 2019 losing their jobs or being made redundant. In 2019, there was no single employment-related reason that dominated, although 12% of traditional trade apprentices either left their apprenticeship because they did not get along with their boss or co-workers or had lost jobs or been made redundant. These findings highlight the critical role played by employers in supporting apprentice completion.

Not unexpectedly, the proportions satisfied with their apprenticeship overall, as well as with the off-the-job training and the features of their employment related to their apprenticeship, were higher for completers than non-completers in both 2010 and 2019. A positive aspect to the figure for the traditional trade apprentices who did not complete their apprenticeship is the high rate of satisfaction with the off-the-job training, with around 70% of non-completers satisfied in both 2010 and 2019.

Outcomes from traditional trade apprenticeships

The main benefits received by traditional trade apprentices from completing their apprenticeship were employment-related and, in particular, that they gained a qualification/trade.

In contrast, non-completers gained extra skills for their job and cited the experience as the main
benefit of undertaking their apprenticeship. Of concern is that almost 18% of non-completers indicated they had received no benefits from undertaking a traditional trade apprenticeship.

Completing a traditional trade leads to good employment outcomes. In 2019, over 90% of traditional trade apprentices were employed after completing their apprenticeship, compared with about 75% of non-completers. Completers also fared better than non-completers in staying employed with the same employer as their apprenticeship. Income earnings were also better, with the difference in median annual income approximately $19 000 in favour of completers in 2019.

For many traditional trade apprentices, completing or leaving the apprenticeship was not the end of
their education or training experience, with around a fifth of completers and a third of non-completers going on to further study. In 2019, almost 15% of non-completers moved on to another apprenticeship, suggesting they still saw value in pursuing an apprenticeship.

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