The number of people starting apprenticeships and traineeships has dropped dramatically – by 20 per cent – over the past year.
Those beginning trade apprenticeships fell by 8.5 per cent, while non-trade fell by 26.4 per cent, according to national data from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER).
Businesses are responding with alarm and warning of chronic skills shortage. But these statistics shouldn’t be that surprising.
They are part of a trend: 127,200 people completed their training in the 12 months from September 2014, which is a decrease of 21.5 per cent from the previous 12 months.
The total number of apprentices has fallen by almost 123,000 over the past two years, after a peak of 446,000 in September 2013. Traineeships and apprenticeships in areas such as retail, clerical and hospitality work have been in decline for decades.
“The trade skills required for a productive economy are not being sufficiently developed and the prospect of skill shortages looms large. This issue requires urgent national attention,” Megan Lilly, head of workforce development at the Australian Industry Group, told the Sydney Morning Herald.
The two main parties blame each other; the Liberals point to Labor cutting $1.1 billion from apprenticeship and traineeship support and Labor blaming the government for abolishing apprentice support programs such as Tools for Your Trade.
However, Peter Strong, chief executive of the Council of Small Business of Australia, says that the problem won’t be solved by simply increasing the money invested in traineeships but changing the way the money is spent. He believes funding should be channelled through appropriate industry associations that deal directly with employers of apprentices and trainees.
“What that means is the training will have to be what the members of that association wants so it would be driven by the customer, in this case the small business person and their staff,” he told SmartCompany.
Strong says there needs to be more thought given to the timing of training, pointing to the rural sector where he says training runs during harvest time – the busiest time of the year. However, not everything is so predictable. Downturns in work have meant people who have embarked on apprenticeships and invested in tools suddenly find their route into work blocked.
Dr Mette Creaser, NCVER national manager of statistics and analytics, said in a statement several factors may have contributed to the decline in both commencement and in-training numbers. “Previous NCVER research has shown that a subdued labour market and the uncapping of university places have an impact on the number of people entering into apprenticeships and traineeships,” she says.