Review of “failing” apprentice system hopes to solve skill shortage

Federal financial incentives for employers taking on apprentices are facing an overhaul in hopes of attracting more workers to the sector. 

By Jarrod
4 Min Read

A federal scheme handing out financial incentives for employers taking on apprentices is facing a complete overhaul in hopes of attracting more workers to the sector. 

Officers will lead an in-depth examination into the effectiveness of current support systems in place for trainees, evaluating how current pay rates and cost-of-living pressures impact both the uptake and completion rates of course participants. 

Under the current scheme, employers can receive 10 per cent of the apprentice’s wages paid for the first 24 months (up to $1500 per quarter) and 5 per cent paid for the third 12-month period (up to $750 per quarter).

Apprentices have also been pocketing small weekly ‘Living Away From Home Allowance’ payments as a way of getting them to stay on the job, but these are quickly being outpaced by rising rent prices and soaring living expenses. 

According to data from the Electrical Trade Union (ETU), most apprentices spend between $50 and $99 on petrol each week, with 34 per cent travelling more than 200 kilometres to and from work.

As a result, the current system and below-minimum wages have seen a colossal drop in completion rates across the board, with only 42.2 per cent of apprentices ever seeing the end of their course.

Minister for Skills and Training Brendan O’Connor said the review was vital for securing the future of the nation’s economy.

“We know that almost half of all apprentices don’t complete their training,” he said.

“Addressing the completion rate is not just vitally important for individuals and employers, but also for the Australian economy.”

Unions say it’s about time

According to ETU National Secretary Michael Wright, a complete overhaul of the failing system is not only needed, but long overdue.

“The rapid transition to renewable energy sources is creating a worldwide surge in demand for electricians. It simply won’t work to rely on the same lazy solution of importing temporary skilled migrants,” he said.

“We need a robust, well-resourced, industry-led training effort and it needs to start immediately. Apprentices need to be supported at every step of their time. We can’t afford for anyone to be slipping through the cracks. 

“Rather than allocating funds to programs that fall short of expectations, it’s crucial for the Government to collaborate closely with people who are actively involved in energy.”

In recent years, the government squandered close to $300 million per year on ineffective, poorly implemented non-industry-based mentoring through the now-discredited Australian Apprenticeship Support Networks system.

“The current Government inherited a complete mess from its predecessor but this review can not afford to cast backwards. It needs to delve immediately into how we design an apprenticeship system that lifts completions,” said Mr Wright.

Industry knowledge and higher wages must be at the centre of this review.”

Australian Council of Trade Unions Assistant Secretary Liam O’Brien also welcomed the review, saying it was an important step towards treating apprentices and trainees with dignity. 

“Apprenticeship and traineeship completion rates are far too low. A strategic review of the system that is focussed on ensuring young Australians have the support and resources they need is critical to lifting completion rates,” he said

“This review must address the systemic issues of low pay if we want to see young people undertake and complete apprenticeships and traineeships in higher numbers in the future.

“It’s great to see a government that cares about supporting workers who are starting out in their industry and recognises the need to invest in their futures.”

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By Jarrod
Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. He has a strong passion for new and emerging consumer technology within the building sector. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.

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