Executive Summary

Apprenticeship programmes play a central role in ensuring that the supply of skills meets demand through their combination of both school-based learning and practical on the job training. In recent years, there has been a decline in the take-up of apprenticeships in Australia, with registrations more than halving from 376 800 in 2010-11 to 164 000 in 2016-17. The Australian Government has committed to working closer with industry through the Skilling Australians Fund with the goal of creating thousands of additional apprenticeships and traineeships.

The government can secure these outcomes by giving employers a stronger leadership role in steering training design and delivery. Responses to a 2017 OECD survey of Australian employers show that 50% of employers retain at least 75% of their apprentices on payroll when apprenticeship training is completed. Retention rates tend to be higher among SMEs, demonstrating the potential value of apprenticeship training for these firms. The lack of time and resources was the most common reported barrier to participation. A commonly cited concern about current programme delivery is poor collaboration with training organisations, inadequate off-the-job training and high dropout rates. However, over 75% of surveyed employers reported that they are interested in establishing stronger partnerships with local training providers going forward.

The following in-depth case studies were carried out to analyse in greater detail local examples of employer engagement:

  • Sydney Metro is the biggest rail project in Australia and demonstrates the importance of co-ordination among relevant stakeholders to create customised solutions to skills and workforce development challenges within a local labour market.

  • STEMship is a pre-employment programme based in Newcastle, New South Wales. It demonstrates how partnerships between the business and education sector can deliver skills training within emerging sectors of the local economy that are less vulnerable to automation.

  • Cowboys: Dream, Believe, Achieve Programme, based in Queensland, is an example of a community organisation’s leadership to deliver individually tailored training programmes to disadvantaged youth in the service sector.

  • Collective Education in Tasmania is a pilot programme that aims to improve Year 12 completion rates by encouraging schools to work more closely with industry to ensure students gain practical and job-relevant skills. The programme also encourages networking between teachers, industry representatives and students.

These case studies illustrate the important role that local leaders can play in promoting apprenticeship participation. Local leadership from a regional development organisation, training provider, or community organisation can be especially effective in convincing employers to participate in an apprenticeship. Local infrastructure investments in roads, bridges, and public transport can also be used to provide incentives for new investments in apprenticeship training. Public policy can further support these efforts by setting social procurement targets that require a binding commitment from employers on offering quality apprenticeship opportunities. Finally, apprenticeship programmes can also be a useful training platform to target skills training to disadvantaged people.

The following recommendations for national and state governments in Australia emerge based on the analysis carried out in this report:

Local leadership matters

  • Strengthen local networks to generate stronger apprenticeship outcomes: The national government in Australia could appoint local co-ordinators within regions that would focus on generating more collaboration around apprenticeships.

  • Encourage technical and further education (TAFE) institutions to conduct more outreach with employers and industry experts: Ensure accountability frameworks for TAFEs take into account how often and intensely they engage with industry in the design and delivery of apprenticeship programmes.

  • Look at opportunities for City Deals to enable policy innovation within the apprenticeship system: National and state governments can provide autonomy to cities and regions to manage skills training programmes with the goal of improving co-ordination and outreach to employers.

A flexible and customised training system can foster more participation

  • Ensure multidisciplinary pathways and flexible training arrangements within the Australia VET system: To ensure that individuals develop both good generic skills alongside specific occupational competencies, national and state governments should encourage TAFEs and other training providers to combine competency units and training packages.

  • Provide targeted support to SMEs to participate in apprenticeships: National and state governments should work closer with professional associations to market apprenticeships to SMEs, who tend to retain their apprentices.

  • Align training with the demands of emerging and growing industries: Regional development organisations should aim to design apprenticeship programmes in STEM-related occupations, which are often a critical source of new job creation at the local level.

Targeting disadvantaged groups can improve labour market participation

  • Recognise the importance of mentoring within apprentices to complete their training: National and state governments can encourage a mentorship component within apprenticeship delivery, especially for at-risk youth and Aboriginal Torres and Strait Islanders.

    • Consider setting social procurement targets to have a binding commitment from employers on apprenticeship training: National and state governments should steer employers to invest in more skills training, especially for disadvantaged groups, by attaching specific apprenticeship requirements to procurement bids.

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