Trends in VET: policy and participation

By Georgina Atkinson, John Stanwick Research report 5 September 2016 978 1 925173 61 1


Given the changing policy environment in VET, NCVER considered it timely to look at the policy developments and participation trends over the last 20 years. This occasional paper examines two broad policy trends, the extension of the apprenticeship and traineeship system, and the opening up of the training market, as well as three specific policy case studies:

  • incentive payments for employers of apprentices and trainees
  • accelerated apprenticeships
  • entitlement models.

The paper also examines the high-level trends in VET participation and the labour market, and in doing so, reflects on how the changing policy environment has influenced participation trends over the past 20 years. The paper concludes with some observations and reflections about the policy trends in VET, the tensions in the system created by these developments, and some thoughts about the future direction of VET policy.


A summary infographic based on data from this paper has also been produced and is available.


About the research

The vocational education and training (VET) sector has undergone considerable change over the last two decades, whereby its landscape of policy, funding and institutions has evolved significantly. While the landscape may have changed, the central mission of VET and its key actors - students, employers, providers - remain a constant. These actors are indeed as important now as they have ever been in their efforts to collaboratively develop and deliver a skilled national labour force, one suited to the jobs available in a diverse economy.

While the actors may be broadly constant, the past two decades have also seen major changes in the labour market. This is evident in its size and opportunities; in the growth of 'services'; in the increase in part-time work; in greater demands for connectedness with global markets; and in technology-led productivity. These macro factors have all driven changes in VET policy, impacting on both learners and employers. These impacts have been especially felt by younger people entering the labour force following the global events of 2008.

While there is promise of greater information becoming available through total VET activity (TVA) reports in the future, this research takes a deliberately retrospective view, tracking VET participation over the past two decades in the context of the introduced and evolving VET policy over this period. This research includes particular reference to the extension of the apprenticeship and traineeship system and the opening-up of the training market.

This narrative is usefully illustrated by three specific policy case studies - incentive payments for employers of apprentices and trainees, accelerated apprenticeships and student entitlement models. In addition, we look at the high-level trends in government-funded VET participation and the labour market, with data drawn from NCVER’s National VET Provider, Apprenticeships and Traineeships and Finance collections, along with labour force data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The paper contributes to the discussion and understanding of the development of VET policy — past, present and future — including how providers and consumers adapt to policy changes and how these changes are reflected in VET participation trends.

Dr Craig Fowler
Managing Director, NCVER


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