Why retaining apprentices is more important than ever before

By Ron Maxwell - CEO

There's no doubting that the impacts of COVID-19 have reached every industry. In our trades, where a large proportion of the operators are small businesses, many have seen a significant downturn. These small businesses play an important role in developing the next generation and ensuring a strong future for their industries and the communities in which they live and work.

Through apprenticeships, they ensure continuity of skilled workers for critical industries, like construction. It's crucial that we keep growing this workforce, particularly because many of our trades were already facing skills shortages before this all began. I've talked before about the impact of a world without tradies, and with today's increasing challenges, there's a risk this may edge closer to reality.

It is my hope that employers can see the value of retaining their apprentices because we will need a robust and skilled workforce to rebuild our economy.

Apprentices are our future

 The Australian Government recently demonstrated a commitment to the future of our apprentices with their stimulus package, announcing wage subsidies and financial support that will help around 70,000 businesses to retain 117,000 apprentices.

 It's not just about the impact on individual employees and small businesses; it's about the broader impact on our economic future. A recent study found that apprenticeships will play a significant role in rebuilding the US economy and that the current downturn could provide a window of opportunity to develop the skills that will be required when it eases. While I haven't yet seen a similar Australian report, it rings true here at home too.

Retaining apprentices will also help to stave off detrimental skills shortages across our trade industries. Imagine the impact if we don't have any new or continuing apprentices in 2020. We may not feel it immediately, but you can guarantee it will make critical services harder to come by in the years to come.

It is also important to remember that it was only in January this year that we saw many regions devastated by bushfires, and by-and-large, rebuilding has not begun. When we've put the worst of COVID-19 behind us, we will need skilled workers to address immediate needs as well as future ones.

Put simply, a lack of apprentices today means a lack of skills tomorrow.

More youth unemployment a risk

Helping to ensure the future of apprentices is also an important mechanism in creating jobs for our youth, the sector of Australian society with the highest unemployment rate. The impacts of unemployment are far-reaching and go well beyond the costs of welfare. Rising unemployment is linked to an increase in mental health issues and can impact the wellbeing of entire communities.

With government restrictions impacting several industries, particularly tourism and hospitality, it's hard to imagine we won't continue to see spikes in these rates, but no one wants to see trade apprentices added to this list.

A short-term change of focus may help

Even if the work is not coming in, businesses may have the opportunity to focus on other areas to prepare their apprentices for the work ahead.

This might be about increasing focus on the theory side of the apprenticeship or completing admin to keep the apprenticeship moving. These things often get pushed to the side under normal circumstances, so it may be an effective way to use the downtime and ensure your apprentice is ready to go when they are needed for the recovery.

Big business has a role to play  

Large businesses that can weather economic storms can play a significant role in creating a pipeline of skilled workers. I was heartened to read that BHP has reconfirmed its intent to take on 1,000 apprentices each year for the next five years despite current economic conditions.

We are all in this together, and larger businesses can help by reviewing their hiring practices to find areas where apprentices can add value. In doing so, they will play an important role in ensuring the future of their industries.

A strong VET sector is vital

Retaining apprentices also helps to support Australia's vocational education and training (VET) sector, which will be needed more than ever as we look to rebuild the economy.

If we don't keep this sector strong despite the downturn, we risk seeing a skills lag; a period of time where qualified workers in key industries, including construction, community services, and healthcare, are in dire shortage.

Making use of government support to retain your apprentices makes sense to prepare your business to play its role in our recovery. It also makes sense for the future of our industries, our youth, and our communities. If you are looking for support to start or retain your apprentice, contact the VERTO Apprenticeships team on 1300 VERTO or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to find out how we can help.