Trends in apprenticeships and traineeships

Geoff Gilfillan, Statistics and Mapping

Key Issue
Apprenticeship and traineeship numbers have been falling since mid‑2012. However, the major falls have occurred in non‑trade occupation traineeships.
Declining numbers of commencements could be driven by changes to incentive payments made in mid‑2012; the decline in demand for skills associated with a softening labour market, and the uncapping of university placements.

Trade and non‑trade apprenticeship and traineeship numbers have been falling in Australia since the middle of 2012. Data from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) shows there were 291,000 apprentices and trainees in training in December 2015 (in seasonally adjusted terms)— down on the most recent peak of 490,000 in June 2012.

When separated out over the longer term, it is evident that apprentices and trainees in non‑trade occupations have fallen dramatically from their peak of 300,000 in June 2012 to 104,000 in December 2015.

Non‑trade occupations for trainees include farm managers, sales workers, clerical and administrative workers, community and personal service workers and drivers and machine operators.

The fall in the number of apprentices and trainees in trade occupations during the same interval is significant but not as dramatic—down from 216,600 to 175,000.

Figure 1 shows long‑term trends in trade and non‑trade apprentices and trainees by calendar year.

Figure 1: Trade and non-trade apprentices and trainees in‑training

Trade and non-trade apprentices and trainees in training

Source: NCVER, Apprentices and trainees 2015 December quarter, NCVER, 2016, Table 1, original data.

One of the reasons for the decline in non‑trade occupation commencements was the change in incentive payments offered by the Federal Government which took effect from 1 July 2012. The changes included:

  • the discontinuation of the $1,500 standard employer commencement incentive payment and
  • an increase in the standard completion incentive from $2,500 to $3,000 for existing worker apprentices and trainees in non‑National Skills Needs List occupations.

The fall in apprenticeship and traineeship numbers since mid‑2012 may also be a reflection of reduced demand for labour in particular industries. In this period the mining industry and utilities have been shedding labour while manufacturing has been in long term decline. Demand for skilled trades has been strongest in construction.

Trade based occupation commencements for apprentices have been relatively consistent over the past decade despite the impact of events such as the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) between 2007 and 2009. In contrast, non‑trade occupation commencements have fallen substantially since mid‑2012.

Figure 2: Trade and non‑trade apprentice and trainee commencements

Trade and non trade apprentice and trainee commencements

Source: NCVER, Apprentices and trainees 2015 December quarter, NCVER, 2016, Table 21, Seasonally Adjusted data.

The changes appear to have proportionally the greatest affect on women and older apprentices and trainees. Female apprentices and trainee numbers have fallen by 112,000 or 59% between June 2012 and December 2015, compared with a fall of 125,500 or 38% for men.

Over the same period, the number of apprentices and trainees aged 45 years and over fell by 57,000 or 71% while those aged 25 to 44 years fell by 95,600 or 55%. In comparison, apprenticeships and traineeships for people aged 19 years and under and 20 to 24 years fell by 39% and 26% respectively.

Of the trade occupations, the largest falls were recorded for engineering, information and communications technology (ICT), and science technicians (down 58%); and automotive and engineering trade workers (down 24%).

Some of the building trades have been less affected. The numbers of apprentice bricklayers, carpenters and joiners in training have only fallen marginally (by 5%) while plumbers fell by 3%. However, electricians in training have fallen by 10%. The only occupation to record a rise in apprenticeships was electronics and telecommunications trade workers (up 27%).

In a recent newspaper article the NCVER suggested that declining apprenticeship numbers could partly be due to the uncapping of university places. The Australian Industry Group expressed concern at the prospect of skill shortages in the future from declining apprentice and trainee commencements.

Current evidence of shortages in skilled occupations is mixed, with a general decline in demand for skilled labour since the GFC contributing to more skilled occupations being in balance rather than shortage. Analysis conducted by the Department of Employment showed just over 40% of trade and technician occupations were in shortage in 2014‑15 compared with 97% in 2007–08.

Further reading

NCVER, Apprentices and trainees 2015 December quarter, NCVER, 2016.

Department of Employment, Skill shortages—statistical summary, Department of Employment, Canberra, 2015.


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