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Apprenticeships system is due for reform

Apprentice tradesman
© Lisa F. Young |

A new report on Australia’s apprenticeship system has found that more than half of those who start apprenticeships don’t complete them. This is an appalling statistic, according to Skills and Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans.

After a 12-month inquiry, a government-appointed taskforce has concluded that the apprenticeship system is in dire need of reform if it is to retain apprentices and avoid serious future skills shortages. According to the report, there is expected to be a shortfall of 36 000 tradespeople in the resources sector by 2015.

The taskforce's recommendations include basing apprentice wages on ‘going rates of pay,’ in the hopes that higher wages will provide incentive for apprentices to complete their apprenticeships and stay in the trade. The taskforce also suggests that apprentices be able to accelerate their training so they can qualify more quickly if their skills meet the necessary requirements.

These recommendations have received hearty endorsement from the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group). ‘We strongly support the long overdue implementation of competency-based progression which enables an apprentice to complete their apprenticeship earlier if they have acquired the necessary skills and can demonstrate this. We have also advocated a review of employer incentive payments,’ says Heather Ridout, Chief Executive of Ai Group.

Given that 42 per cent of new apprentices are 25 or over, previous work experience and qualifications also need to be recognised. ‘There are many workers already in the workforce who have skills which should be recognised as an incentive to undertake further training,’ says Senator Evans.

Senator Evans claims that to date, reform has been stymied by the ‘complete complexity’ of the system – something which Evans says needs to change.

‘The report rightly identifies many of the difficulties and inconsistencies with the current apprenticeship system. Overcoming these difficulties will require a robust and genuine commitment to reform from all states and territories, as well as a flexible and responsive training system,’ says Heather Ridout.

In an effort to slash costs, the government has also proposed cutting tens of millions of dollars in traineeship subsidies paid to retailers, including large restaurants and food chains such as McDonald’s, Woolworths and Coles. According to the government’s report, these subsidies benefit the employer but do little to boost overall skill levels. The withdrawal of these subsidies, however, may jeopardise thousands of traineeship positions with these big retailers.

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