Budget 2023–24: Supporting apprentices must be a key focus today and in the years ahead

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    By Ron Maxwell - CEO

The Federal Government’s first full-year Budget, handed down last month, included some fantastic initiatives for the vocational education and training (VET) sector. And while they are all worth exploring, the area I want to really delve into today is the support for Australian Apprenticeships.

The supports announced include $54.3 million to increase apprenticeship completion rates, with services further strengthened for apprentices who may face additional barriers, including those with disability, women in non-traditional trades and First Nations apprentices.

The Productivity Commission’s 2020 report on the National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development highlights that apprenticeship support services ‘can facilitate the apprentice’s career and personal development, provide social or psychological support, and help them to reach their goals. Evidence suggests that these services are generally very effective at increasing completion rates’.

At VERTO, we were heartened to read of this commitment to increasing completion rates, as the apprenticeship outcomes achieved today will resound for years to come at every single level. Here’s why.

A critical youth employment mechanism


With historically low unemployment rates right now, creating more employment opportunities might not seem as critical, but the overall figure simply doesn’t paint the whole picture.

In April 2023, the national unemployment rate sat at 3.6%, but it was 8.2% among youth. And when we start to look at regional Australia, the numbers rapidly escalate, with youth unemployment as high as 17.9% in some regions.  

Creating more employment opportunities for young people in our regions is necessary to avoid exacerbating the flow-on effects. The second-order impacts of unemployment are numerous, from youth homelessness, mental health challenges and addiction at an individual level to a raft of social welfare issues and increasing costs at an economic one.

Apprenticeships are ideally placed to support local employment, offering stable, structured pathways to nationally recognised qualifications and lifelong careers for young people.

In fact, they are the oldest and most resilient form of post-school education in Australia, according to the National Centre for Vocational Education and Research (NCVER), and they’ll be a big part of growing the Australian economy into the future. 

A long-term solution to growing skills shortages


The skills shortages currently plaguing many of our traditional trade industries will likely impact us for some years yet. And while increasing skilled migration will provide some relief in the short term, we need a solution that will build a long-term stable pipeline of skilled workers.

The apprentices who qualify in the next year or two will play a significant role in strengthening our construction industry into the future, an industry that impacts us all at some level. From difficulty getting trades for home renovation projects, emergency repairs or storm/flood/fire damage to delays in major infrastructure projects, it’s a growing problem across the country.

Many states are facing housing crises as the demand for dwellings outstrips supply. However, according to the Master Builders Association, the construction of new homes will drop by 200,000 per year until 2026 due to skills shortages and supply issues

It’s critical to get more skilled workers into these industries. In my opinion, additional support for women in non-traditional trades and those with barriers to entry will have a significant impact.

According to NCVER data for 2020, 3 in 4 apprentices in training were male, and women account for just 2% of all trade workers in Australia’s booming construction industry.

From helping more young women explore trade careers through career guidance programs to educating employers on creating more inclusive workplaces and providing mentoring and support programs, much more can be done to address gender inequality in our trades. It’s great to see the government acknowledging a need to address them with additional support services. 

A boost for the wider economy

Apprenticeships are a major contributor to a skilled workforce and building a skills pipeline for years to come – a vital part of revitalising Australia’s slowing productivity and accelerating growth.

They are the backbone of our economy, building the infrastructure projects that drive Australia forward. The government revealed significant infrastructure plans in this year’s Budget, and delivering on them will require the skills and the people to get the job done.

Boosting the number of apprenticeship completion is a critical goal, and it’s excellent to see the Federal Government acknowledging this in Budget 2023–24.

Apprenticeships are typically 3–4 years in duration, so there is a time lag before we see the results of these initiatives. Getting them in place as soon as possible is key. Of course, the best time to grow Australia’s apprenticeship completions will always be yesterday – but the second-best time is now.