By Ron Maxwell - CEO

Whether it’s the constant news cycle on the latest artificial intelligence trend, or a headline grabber about stagnant wage growth, there’s no doubt that we’re in a period of change when it comes to the way we work.

It will be interesting to see how we’ll adapt to these changes. One area I’ve highlighted previously is the looming skills shortage and the role of Vocational Education and Training (VET) in solving that challenge. Another key pillar of the solution is the role of apprenticeships in our workforce.

Apprenticeship numbers have been through a rough period, with a reduction in both commencements and completions. Apprenticeships form a vital part of the VET mix, and for that reason alone need to be a key part of the conversation around work. But this seems to have dropped off the radar in Australia, and apprenticeships are seen as the poor cousin of university when it comes to career choices.

Apprenticeships are an economic growth engine

In my view, apprenticeships are severely undervalued. Strong apprenticeship numbers are vital for economic growth; there are so many employment sectors that rely on apprenticeship programs to provide a sustainable, skilled, future workforce.

When we mention the word “apprentice,” most people think of the major trades such as electrical, plumbing, carpentry, etc. and there’s no doubting the value they provide, especially to the construction industry. With politicians focused on a bigger Australia and population growth, the need for construction to keep pace is clear.

However, in reality, apprenticeships extend far beyond the traditional trades. Sectors such as automotive, hospitality, and agriculture, to name a few, are all crying out for skilled workers; a challenge which apprenticeships play a crucial part in solving.

It’s a vital career path

Traditionally, we’ve focused on school-leaver programs to promote apprenticeships in order to meet the constant demand for skilled workers. However, more needs to be done in this space to promote apprenticeships as a career choice and show our youth that university isn’t the only road available.

But it’s not just school leavers who benefit; one of the growing trends we’re seeing is the rise in mature age apprentices. As our economy adapts to the changing nature of work, the requirements for retraining and up-skilling are growing. Mature-age apprenticeships are increasingly creating opportunities for workers transitioning from one profession to another. This enables them to kick-start new careers whilst helping to alleviate the looming skills shortage.

Employers benefit too

Employers also benefit heavily from a strong apprenticeship program. While it may seem like hard work upfront, there really is a long-term benefit to having an apprenticeship program within your business.

Even with government cutbacks, there’s still significant financial support for employers to take on apprentices as a part of their business. However, access to lower cost employees is only one aspect to employing an apprentice.

The real benefit comes in being able to train and shape a highly skilled worker over the three to four year apprenticeship period. The most successful employers not only impart their skills and knowledge, but also encourage employees to become part of their team. This is key to developing long-term, valuable employees.

Funding and support are the keys

While the benefits for the economy, workers, and employers are clear, we need to do more to give both school leavers and mature age job seekers the opportunity to explore apprenticeship options. While it isn’t the only component, government funding will always play a crucial role in making apprenticeships attractive and building programs that give apprentices the best chance to finish their formal training.

Our future workforce needs to see this as an attractive option, not just an alternative if they miss out on university entry. With a range of industries now reaching crisis point in terms of skills shortages, this has now become more important than ever.