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By Michael Read - Senior Consultant 

Last Friday, we saw the latest apprenticeship and traineeship numbers released, showing combined commencements are at their lowest levels in more than a decade with no sign of recovering.

The problem with these figures is they raise more questions than answers for policy makers.

Something is seriously wrong with the system if commencements of apprenticeships for 2015 are at half the levels they were during the same time in 2010 post Global Financial Crisis.

On the policy front, between 2012 and 2015 we saw significant changes to funding and incentives for both employers and apprentices. The overnight decline in trainee numbers can be directly linked to incentives for employers engaging existing workers into traineeships.

However, if we use historical commencements as a guide for future completions we haven’t seen the bounce in completions in the last couple of years we should have expected, given the unusually high number of commencements the system experienced mid-2012 just prior to major cuts to employer incentives.

During this same period (2012 to 2015), successive State Governments have rolled out training guarantees for certificate 3 level qualifications that have opened the way for people to complete formal training in areas such a business administration, finance and IT that would have traditionally formed part of a traineeship.

Adding further uncertainty during this period is the yet not fully realised impact of recent fair work decisions around wages and the take up of apprentices and trainees by employers.

For the first three quarters of 2015 after the many of the new awards came into effect, apprentice commencements have continued to dive into numbers not seen for more than a decade.

The issue of youth unemployment is only making matters worse for governments and policy makers, as it has continued to spiral further into double digits with some areas of Australia recording youth unemployment in the mid to high 20 percent range. This raises further questions as to the responsiveness to our apprentice and trainee system.

In July 2015, the Australian Government launched the new Australian Apprenticeship Support Network (AASN) designed to be a one-stop shop for all employers and their apprentice and trainee support needs.  

The new AASN system is expected to strengthened retention and completion of apprenticeships.   To reinvigorate the interests of young people and employers, the opportunity is for government to better aligning incentives and supports to employers and apprentices to ensure we are getting maximum positive impact.

The one strength over all other employment creation and training programs is that an apprenticeship and traineeship provides a job right here, right now – backed up with quality vocational training to build the skills Australia needs for its industries. 

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