By Ron Maxwell - CEO
In most Australian states and territories today, the official school leaving age is 17, a move most states made in the first decade of the millennium. This has brought a wealth of benefits, leading to higher Year 12 completion rates and increased educational attainment across the country.
There is one area, however, where the impact hasn't been all positive. Leaving school in Year 10 armed with a School Certificate to commence an apprenticeship was a well-worn path for many young Australians. Without that clear-cut entry point, it makes sense that fewer young people are choosing apprenticeship pathways.
In the 2019/2020 Financial Year, apprenticeship commencements reached their lowest ebb since the mid-1990s. And while several factors have driven this, it's clear that we need to find ways to encourage more Year 11 and 12 students to consider apprenticeship careers. Doing so is critical to easing the skills shortages plaguing many of our key industries.
Embedding apprenticeships in our schools
There is an option out there that allows students to continue their HSC studies while also trying out and getting a headstart on their apprenticeship: the school-based apprenticeship or traineeship.
This is a fantastic vehicle for young people interested in undertaking an apprenticeship. It blends school studies with a day per week studying and learning on the job in their chosen field – quite literally, the best of both worlds.
The VERTO team recently heard from Sarah, a Sydney hairdressing salon owner who commenced a school-based apprenticeship in 2007 and wanted to thank those involved in her experience. Her sentiments sum up the power of the opportunity.
"My parents wanted me to stay in school, and I was worried I would regret it later if I left, but I wanted to start building my career, too. I didn't know what to do… as soon as I heard about (school-based apprenticeships), I jumped at the chance.
"If I didn't do a school-based apprenticeship, I wouldn't be where I am today… My apprenticeship shaped my life in the best way possible."
A school-based apprenticeship is a fantastic way to try out a chosen career path and develop real-world workplace skills, working with real employers and getting paid a salary.
Even if the student doesn't go on to build a career in that particular industry, they'll take away a raft of interpersonal skills. Skills such as working with different personalities, cooperating to achieve shared goals, and building maturity and emotional intelligence will be assets in any field.
A global track record
This model has been tried and tested with great success in many other countries, including Switzerland, which is a world leader in vocational education and training. Swiss students complete primary and lower secondary school before 70% of students move to senior schools that use an apprenticeship model to balance school and vocational studies.
The education system works closely with industries and employers, who invest in training their apprentices. Many employers see a return on investment before the apprenticeship is completed, so it makes sense from a financial standpoint. For the country, there are a wealth of benefits, including one of the lowest unemployment rates among developed nations.
With demand outstripping supply in many industries, job outlook and potential for wage growth are excellent in many Australian apprenticeship sectors, making them even more attractive options.
In fact, a global study recently revealed that Australian construction workers are amongst the highest paid in the world, with average hourly rates ranging between $97.85 in Adelaide and a staggering $124 per hour in Melbourne. Based on a 38-hour working week, a construction worker in Melbourne could earn more than $240,000 a year, double the average salary of a qualified lawyer.
Increasing awareness in the broader community
When talking to our school-based apprentices and trainees, we often hear that they did not know about the experience until they went actively looking. So the first step to getting more young people to explore apprenticeships is to increase awareness of this fantastic opportunity.
Whether as a student, parent/carer, teacher, career adviser or potential employer, take the time to find out more. It might be life-changing for you or someone you care about. Learn more from the NSW Department of Education here or contact VERTO on 1300 483 786 or at
I want to leave you with some powerful advice from Sarah, our salon owner, who said, "It's important to know that you don't have to choose between an apprenticeship and your HSC – you can do both, and it can be the start of something incredible."