Drop in apprenticeship numbers necessitates action: Ai Group

With Australian apprenticeship and traineeship numbers falling to a ten year low of 259,385 in 2018, chief executive of Australian Industry Group (Ai Group), Innes Willox, wrote to federal and state governments ahead of their meeting in Cairns on August 9.

With global economic uncertainty and digitalisation driving the transformation of industry, Willox argued that the current vocational education and training (VET) system is not equipped to deliver students with the skills needed.

“It is our view that the VET system is in a less than optimal state to deliver on this national imperative,” wrote Willox.

Willox noted that the VET sector has been hampered by the FEE-HELP scandal, inconsistency across different states, reductions in funding, and asynchronous qualification arrangements. In sum, Willox noted that “confidence needs to be restored to the VET system”.

Representing employers, the Ai Group cited research that the organisation had done in 2018 which showed that 75 per cent of employers found it difficult to recruit suitably qualified or skilled people. Most in demand were technicians and trades workers, as well as professionals in all STEM fields.

In responding to the issues outlined in Willox’s letter, the COAG meeting released a communique, “Vision for Vocational Education and Training”.

Noting that “VET and higher education are equal and integral parts of a joined up and accessible post-secondary education system” the vision set out broad priorities for the governments to improve the sector.

The states, territories and federal governments joined together to note that, “all jurisdictions acknowledge the importance of a viable and robust system of both public and private providers, and the particular role of states and territories in facilitating the public provision of VET”.

To address the challenges, Willox argued for the establishment of employer incentives, consistent qualifications between states, and input from industry. While the COAG communique did not explicitly endorse these measures, the statement from the heads of government noted that the sector should be “responsive to the needs of private industry and the public sector, ensuring employers have ready access to a highly skilled and adaptable workforce, while acknowledging industry has shared responsibility for growing a skilled economy”.

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