I don’t think many of us would have been surprised to read the recent statistics about the declining numbers of apprentices and trainees as published by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) this week. The continued decline of commencements and completion numbers of apprentices and trainees to me indicates we have a major problem with our apprentice and trainee system. I have always been of the belief that apprenticeships and traineeships are a vital employment option for people transitioning from secondary school into the workforce and these pathways are critical for us in addressing youth unemployment, as I have written about in a previous blog.

University is not for everyone. It is not the be all and end all of career success. As someone who chose not to go on to University after secondary school and instead chose to complete a traineeship, I know and understand how important that traineeship was in helping me establish and commence my working career. And now as an employer of a trainee, I have experienced the other side of the apprenticeship and traineeship system. Unfortunately I think the system is flawed and we are not making it easy for employees or employers to gain and experience the true of value of an apprenticeship or traineeship.

As a recruiter I see many people every day looking for their first real job after finishing secondary school. Some of these people have completed their VCE and some haven’t. The majority of these young people want an opportunity to make a start in the workforce but are shying away from an apprenticeship or traineeship for many different reasons but the main reason people give is the low pay rates. I know when I completed my traineeship many years ago there was no way I could have made ends meet if I hadn’t of had the support of my family and thankfully I was still living at home with my parents. The pay rates for apprentices and trainees are a real challenge for people to be able to live off, particularly if they don’t have the support of family and are trying to live independently. By the time they pay rent and in most cases, certainly here in a regional area like Ballarat, the majority of apprentices and trainees will require a drivers licence and vehicle; there isn’t much of wage left after paying rent and maintaining and running a vehicle.

On the flip side, employers will struggle to see the value of an apprentice or trainee if wages are lifted as for an apprentice or trainee to be genuinely supported and trained on the job it takes a significant amount of time and effort from the employer. Plus throw in the down time for training and as an employer you are left wondering if employing an apprentice or trainee is really worth it. Yet if we don’t start employing apprentice and trainees and increasing our commencement and completion numbers we are going to find ourselves with major skills shortages in many sectors. I know many trades in Ballarat are already struggling with skills shortages and identify experienced talent because the numbers of people coming through apprenticeships and traineeships just haven’t been there in recent years.

Then you have the challenges of the training to navigate your way through and the systems for accessing funding is complicated. Even working in the recruitment and employment space I have found the system complicated and confusing so I can understand why other employers just throw the employment of an apprentice or trainee in the too hard basket. The next challenge to throw in the mix is the support and mentoring of the apprentice or trainee. It’s this lack of mentoring and coaching that I think adds to the dropout rates of apprentices and trainees. Transitioning from school to the workforce is not an easy move and if we are going to improve the dropout rates then I think we need to look at how we support our young people to do this. Providing sufficient mentoring and support can be particularly challenging from a time perspective for small businesses and I believe there is value in having an independent mentor for an apprentice or trainee. This independent mentor though, needs to be more than just a face that the apprentice or trainee sees for a quick meeting once every 4 or 6 years. Building that rapport between the mentor and apprentice or trainee is crucial.

I don’t know what the answers are to the challenges around the declining numbers of apprentices or trainees but I do think we need to take a serious look at our current system and look at how we can change it for the better. If we don’t, we are setting ourselves up for increased youth unemployment and severe skills shortages in the future. Maybe we need to look at a HECS like system to supplement wages. Or collaborating with like employers to “share” apprentices and trainees and hopefully increase and improve the engagement of the apprentice and trainee through giving them more diversity in their work and sharing the mentoring. Whatever we decide to do we need to collaborate with employers as well as apprentices and trainees who have been through the system, have dropped out and who are interested in undertaking an apprenticeship or traineeship to gain vital feedback on what it is they see as the hurdles and barriers we need to overcome.

About The Author
Ange Connor

Ange is the Founder and Director of Inspire HQ, one of regional Victoria’s leading recruitment, human resource (HR) and careers agencies. Ange is an ‘ideas’ person and a ‘big picture’ thinker. She loves to challenge the status quo – in fact, that’s how Inspire HQ began.

Ange has supported hundreds of businesses across Ballarat and regional Victoria to attract, engage, motivate, develop and retain their greatest assets; their people. Ange’s unyielding passion and invaluable knowledge of the recruitment and HR industry ensures she delivers the best solutions for her clients.

Ange has held various board positions and regularly volunteers her time to share her industry and market knowledge. She was recently a Councillor for the Victoria and Tasmania region of the Recruitment Consulting and Staffing Association (RCSA) of Australia and New Zealand, and she is a current Board Director of the Committee for Ballarat.

For more useful information, follow Ange on LinkedIn.

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