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Where have all the apprentices gone?

There’s been much public discussion lately about Australia’s “apprentice crisis”, with representatives from across industry and on all sides of Government weighing in. 
  • Nationally, trade and non-trade apprenticeship completions fell by roughly 40 per cent from 2014 to 2018, while apprentices in training fell by 30 per cent during the same period*;
  • Year on year apprenticeship and training completions were down 5.5 per cent in 2018; 
  • And eight out of the nine trade occupations assessed in 2018 were found to be in national shortage – five years earlier, only one of these occupations was in shortage.
Beyond all of the hype (and some misleading statistics) we are still a long way from reaching a “crisis”. But there has been an undeniable decline in apprenticeships in recent years – a trend that looks likely to continue, given Australia’s apprenticeship commencement rates are falling too.
With Australia in the middle of an infrastructure boom, any reduction in the supply of skilled and qualified workers to the construction industry warrants attention. Here we take a look at the impact of fewer apprentices in the construction workforce and consider ways to attract, train and retain more construction industry apprentices.
What will fewer apprentices mean for construction?

As new job seekers continue to turn their backs on many trades, the ripple effect for construction businesses are wide ranging. Fewer apprentices can lead to:
  • Recruitment pressures
  • Smaller talent pipelines for small and medium businesses; and
  • Reduced productivity
  • Lack of knowledge and skills transfer
  • Wages growth that can drive up the cost of construction.
With a reduced flow of apprentices into the industry, a highly skilled but ageing workforce is remaining employed for longer – a shift that is changing the age demographic of our industry and reshaping the construction workforce. 
How can we boost construction trade apprenticeships?
There are many ways to bring more apprentices back into the construction industry.
A fair go for all 
Australia must focus on making apprenticeships more accessible and attainable, by removing perceived and actual barriers. For businesses, these barriers include the risk, cost and effort of taking on new apprentices. For prospective apprentices a lack of awareness, geography, and bias towards university can stand in the way of this career path. Age can be another barrier to apprenticeships, so we must make vocational education and training accessible to those wanting to retrain, re-skill and enter trade professions later in life.
Creating more public sector training opportunities can also remove barriers to entry for potential job seekers.
Better connectivity
A common complaint around apprenticeships is the disconnect felt between industry, our vocational education and training (VET) system and the school system. To improve connectivity we must: 
  • Align local schools, businesses and industry with training opportunities, particularly in areas of high youth unemployment.
  • Develop more training hubs in regional areas to bring opportunities to these communities.
  • Help vocational training compete better with university career pathways.
Improving completion rates
For many people an apprenticeship is the first formal training undertaken outside of school, so it’s really important that this experience is a positive and mutually rewarding one. Yet according to the National Centre for Vocational Educational Research (NCVER), less than half of all apprentices complete their training with their first employer. Of those that leave, 60% do so within the first year. To retain apprentices, better quality training opportunities and experiences must be provided.
  • As apprentices typically have no (or very little) workplace experience, a thorough and formal induction process is essential. 
  • Mentoring and coaching helps apprentices settle into new roles and improves their chance of success.
  • Investing in on-the-job training creates a culture of continued development, improving job satisfaction for all employees and furthering the experience gained by apprentices.
Federal funding
The Australian Government currently invests in programs like the Australian Apprentice Wage Subsidy trial, the Skilling Australians Fund, the Australian Apprentice Wage Subsidy program and the Additional Identified Skills Shortage payment. A review of these and other apprenticeship initiatives will ensure public funding is directed most effectively.
Have you had a positive experience bringing apprentices into your business? What benefits have you realised from training apprentices? Please share your thoughts and feedback via LinkedIn
* Nationally, trade and non-trade apprenticeship completions fell from 63,405 in 2014, to 38,305 in 2018. The number of apprentices in training fell by 30% from 127,955 in 2014 to 89,315 in 2018. Source:


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