How employers can help apprentices stay engaged and complete their qualification

By Ron Maxwell - CEO

Australian apprenticeship completion rates remain low, despite many new government incentives to address the issue. While some areas do buck the trend, the national average sits around the fifty-five per cent mark, and with skills shortages upon us or looming in many industries, it’s critical that we find a way to address this issue. 

I've talked before about the need for the right incentives, funding and support at a government level and, of course, training providers have a role to play too. At VERTO, our completion rate sits considerably above the national average, and in my opinion, this is because we work closely with industry, employers and our apprentices. 

However, training and government incentives are only part of the puzzle, and not necessarily the most important pieces. The National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) has identified that the most common reasons for not completing an apprenticeship are employment-related, from interpersonal conflict to not liking the realities of the job.

An apprentice is an investment

Employers have an opportunity to play a significant role in engaging apprentices and increasing completion rates. In my mind, the key to this lies in ensuring an employer sees their apprentice as a worthwhile investment for their business. There is no denying that the right apprentices will strengthen a business, but it will take some time and financial investment to develop them.  

In my experience, there is often a mindset that the government should fund apprenticeship training in Australia, and it is largely left to Vocational Education and Training (VET) providers to deliver. However, in countries like Germany where employers invest heavily in apprentices, completion rates are high, youth unemployment low and industries strong.

I often hear the argument around why you would invest in additional training for an apprentice when they may leave, and to that I always respond, like the old adage says,: what if you don't invest in training and they stay? There are examples here at home, like Westrac, who invest heavily in cutting-edge training facilities for their apprentices, because they see the long-term value for their business.

It's more than money 

Finding the right apprentice often starts with managing expectations; having a discussion about the realities of the job before the apprentice commences can save stress, time and money later - and it's free.

The world is changing, and younger generations want to know why they are doing something, as much as the how and when of it. They want to feel valued and as though they are contributing to the business, and this may take a mindset shift for employers who did their own apprenticeship at a time when the apprentice was the one who swept the floor. Employers should be providing apprentices with opportunities to learn, develop skills and contribute. Equally, apprentices must be prepared that they are there to learn and this is about starting from scratch. Every industry involves some level of menial work and apprentices will need to take on these less engaging tasks too.  

VERTO offers 'Meet the Tradies’ experiences, where potential trainees are given the opportunity to ask qualified people all of their burning questions about a particular trade or profession. We do see some students choose different career paths as a result, but for me, this is a good thing. Overcoming skill shortages is not just a numbers game; managing expectations upfront is critical to get the right people in the right industries. 

Relationships are crucial 

It's also about building rapport and a good relationship from the beginning. Once issues arise or the risk of friction is identified, mentoring services are available, but often these come into play too late. If a working relationship is fractured, it can be difficult to get back on track.

Making time to talk to apprentices and giving them an avenue to approach their supervisor if something is going wrong is important.  This might sound like providing an opportunity to 'have a whinge' but it's far more serious than that. For the business, having an early heads up if an apprentice is not happy is a win; providing an opportunity to address the situation before it becomes untenable. For the individual, it can be critical, from workplace issues that may see them quit their apprenticeship, right through to those that can cause serious mental health issues. 

It might sound like additional work on the surface, but it is a worthwhile investment for the business in the long and short term. Best of all, it’s something employers don't have to take on alone. Providers like VERTO, offer no cost services that support both the employer and the apprentice, maximising the chances of a successful long-term relationship. 

At the end of the day, an employer takes on an apprentice to invest in the future of their business. It isn’t an investment that an employer can simply "set and forget" but rather one that must be nurtured to get the best outcomes. Employers who are prepared to invest in training, developing, and supporting the right apprentice will reap the benefits and in doing so play a part in increasing apprenticeship completion rates and reversing skill shortages.