Apprentices and trainees currently represent 25 per cent of the 1.7 million students enrolled in the Vocational Education and Training (VET) system and 3.8 percent of the entire workers (NCVER, 2010). More than 13 per cent of the entire Australian workforce comprises of 1.2 million workers in the technical and trade sector (Expert Panel, 2011: 8). Therefore, the quality and effectiveness of the Australian Apprenticeships systems will impact on the productivity of the wider Australian economy. For decades, Australians have completed apprenticeships and traineeships that have provided pathways into satisfying and rewarding careers in trade or vocation, or into further training, skills development and leadership (Lansbury and Wailes, 2004). Consequently, shifting the onus to the interested stakeholders in the employment industry to ensure that Australian Apprenticeships remain a valued pathway. This involves reinforcing a shared responsibility for the Australian Apprenticeships system by establishing an employer contribution scheme in which employer contributions will be matched by the Australian government.
According to Alexander, Lewer and Gahan (2008) they define employment relations as the interaction of employees and employers which involves understanding the different and overlapping concerns of human resource management and industrial relations. Although personnel and industrial relations are usually viewed separately, the development of both areas fosters their integration. Therefore, shared responsibility is the collaboration between two or more bodies performing the same kind of activity in the creation of the content of an item.
With a determinable future growth in the Australian economy, the demand for skilled workers is increasing. This has led to great interest from major stakeholders that include the government, employers’ associations and unions. If Australia is to respond effectively to the challenges of competing in a global marketplace, a skilled and flexible workforce proves critical to its future standard of living (Expert Panel, 2011: 4).
The long history behind Australian Apprenticeships system places it at a position for effective employment based learning. Being the basis for skill formation for many years, its findings show the critical areas that need to be reformed so as to meet the skills needs of the 21st century economy. This is by providing a pathway to skills in traditional trades and encompassing skills formation pathways for other sectors, such as emerging industries from technological innovation and growth industries including the health and community care services sector (Australian Council of Trade Unions, 2011).
In order to meet these changing needs and improve the Australian Apprenticeships system, a productive workforce is vital; additionally governments and industry must demonstrate shared responsibility. Consequently, the key issues that Australian employment industry stakeholders need to address is retention that is a systematic effort by employers to create and foster environment that encourages current employees to remain employed, completion outcomes, and its impacts on productivity and innovation (Expert Panel, 2011: 4).
According to a detailed research on economic costs and benefits of the current Australian Apprenticeships system which was undertaken by the National Centre for Vocational Education and Research (2011), the following challenges were identified. These include: firstly, the skills shortage in sectors like engineering and traditional trades, even though, unemployment is projected to fall to 4.75% by the June quarter, 2012 (Budget Strategy and Outlook 2009-10). Secondly, the economic cycle which displays apprenticeship commencements dropping markedly during an economic downturn. Thirdly, completion rates for Australian Apprenticeships are unacceptably low about 48%. Moreover, investment in training employers which not viewed as addressing skills shortages. Lastly, is the current complexity of the system and misalignment of the Australian Apprenticeships system and the workplace relations systems (Expert Panel, 2011: 9).
Main Arguments or Viewpoints of the Various Stakeholders
Skills development and traineeships must be seen as a shared responsibility between governments, industry, individual employers and apprentices and trainees themselves. That is, key stakeholders should share the responsibility of balancing the benefits and risks from investing in training employees (NCVER, 2010).
Four controversial themes have emerged highlighting challenges associated with the system and suggesting reforms to enhance the ability of the system to contribute to productivity of the Australian economy. These include; a model of skills formation that the government should ensure effective pathways for entry into the system and provide career development opportunities (Simmons, 2011), the leadership of the system where the custodian of the system would greatly improve outcomes from apprenticeships and traineeships, the sustainability of the system that should consider advantaged and disadvantaged learners. Summarily, the workplace relations framework needs to complement and support the VET system, be responsive to the needs of the industry and encourage the take-up and completion of apprenticeships and traineeships (Expert Panel, 2011: 9).
Factors that might influence the perspective of the various stakeholders
Evans (2011) suggests that a simpler and more user-friendly and effective Australian Apprenticeships system should be enforced so as to make it valued and attractive to those familiar and unfamiliar. Moreover, a scope for a better approach to support the needs of the apprentices and trainees should be attained by having consistency in wages and conditions. This is only possible if there is a system that is responsive to the evolution of the economy and occupations, provides quality training and support, facilitates a cooperative and flexible approach by governments and industry bodies, and promotes a culture of competency based progression in partnership with industry bodies and employers (Housing Industry of Australia, 2011).
To address the way forward a system that is responsive to the evolution of the economy and occupations should be enacted. Therefore, a discerning and strategic approach to the Australian Government financial investment should be established. Additionally, the system should also support high quality employment and training arrangements under training contracts for both apprenticeships and traineeships in the traditional trades and non-trade vocations. The Australian Government, a key stakeholder, directly spends around $1.2 billion per annum to support Australian Apprenticeships (Australian Council of Trade Unions, 2011). However, the current investment is not targeted effectively as possible. Nevertheless, the system will only improve if there is support from all who will benefit from an improved system. Both the government and industry have a shared responsibility to achieve this.
Alexander, R., Lewer, J and Gahan, P. (2008), Understanding Australian Industrial Relations, Thompson Learning, Southbank Victoria.
Australian Council of Trade Unions (2011), Apprenticeship reforms are long overdue and must be acted on to provide a skilled labour force, Media Release, 21 February, www.actu.org.au.
Australian Industry Group (2011), Apprenticeship report an opportunity for real reform, Media Release, 21 February, www.aigroup.com.au.
Evans, C. (2011), Reforming the Australian Apprenticeship System, Media Release, 21 February, Senator the Hon. Christopher Evans Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations, www.deewr.gov.au.
Expert Panel, (2011), A Shared Responsibility: Apprenticeships for the 21st Century, Final Report by the Expert Panel, 31 January, www.australianapprenticeships.gov.au
Housing Industry of Australia (2011), National Apprenticeship Reform Needs Industry Input, Media Release, 21 February, www.hia.com.au.
Lansbury, R. and Wailes N, (2004), International and comparative: employment relations, Ed., London: SAGE Publications
Simmons, A. (2011), Report savages apprenticeship system, ABC News Online, 21 February, www.abc.net.au.