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Education and Work: Developments in contracted training: apprentices and trainees
Available information shows that the number of apprentices in Australia generally increased throughout the 1970s and 1980s, which according to ABS data reached a peak of 175,500 in 1989. Their numbers fell sharply during the early 1990s, down to 111,200 in 1993, rising again to about 132,200 in 1999. In 1999, apprentices represented a relatively small number of students when compared with the 1.5 million aged 15-24 engaged in all forms of post-compulsory education (see Australian Social Trends 2000, Beyond compulsory schooling). However, the emerging importance of traineeships as another form of entry-level training during the latter half of the 1990s has greatly increased the numbers of people involved in contracted training. Taken together, there were 256,500 apprentices and trainees in Australia in 1999.
Apprenticeships have existed in Australia since the early part of the 19th century. Since that time they have evolved and, in recent decades in particular, the nature of apprenticeships has changed substantially in terms of the forms they take, the length of the indenture period and the occupational fields covered. In 1985, a traineeship system was introduced to broaden entry-level training opportunities. More recently, from 1998 both apprentices and trainees have been covered under the umbrella of New Apprenticeships.
In addition to these structural changes, there have also been variations to the methods of collecting data on apprentices, both between the States and Territories, and over time. Consequently, it is difficult to get a precise statistical picture over time of either apprenticeships or traineeships
APPRENTICES AND TRAINEES, 1968-1999
(a) Includes apprentices only.
(b) Includes apprentices and trainees from 1995. See box on page 103 for more information.
Source: Transition from Education to Work, Australia (cat. no. 4227.0); Australian Committee on Vocational Education and Training Statistics (ACVETS), Apprenticeship Statistics, 1984-85 to 1993-94; unpublished estimates, NCVER apprenticeships and traineeships collections, June 1999.
The history of apprenticeships
The apprenticeship system was introduced into Australia in the early part of the 19th century in response to demand for trades skills in the expanding colonies. The system, including its legislation, reflected the British system of the time. At the time of Federation, the legislative powers relating to apprenticeships remained with the individual States.3
While there were some variations between the States at the beginning of the 20th century, apprenticeships were usually for a maximum period of seven years, starting at age 14. At the age of 21 (or sooner if married) apprentices would be accepted as journeymen (these were fully qualified tradespeople who were employees rather than independent).3
After World War I, the apprenticeship period was lowered to five years for most trades (four years was more common for girls).4 During the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, there were not always enough apprentices to fulfil demand, and various Commonwealth and State inquiries were set up to find ways to encourage young people into trade careers.1
However, it was not until changes occurred to the apprenticeship system in the late 1960s that the supply of young people wanting to become apprentices increased. Those changes included reducing the period of apprenticeship to four years in most cases; improving the wages and conditions of apprentices; and introducing compulsory technical training during work hours. However, the changes also had the effect of reducing the number of apprenticeships offered, as the conditions were then less attractive to employers. By 1968, there were 102,354 registered apprentices.3
Throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s there have been a number of Commonwealth and State Government incentives to encourage employers to provide more apprenticeships and other entry-level training opportunities for young people.3
The introduction of traineeships
The Australian Traineeship System was introduced Australia-wide in 1985. It aimed to provide a combination of on-the-job and off-the-job training for young people entering many non-trade occupations such as clerical, sales or services work. The traineeship system was designed to complement the apprenticeship system and other post- secondary education. As with apprenticeships, the States and Territories have the responsibility for approving, certifying and monitoring traineeships.3
Traineeships generally last for a shorter period than apprenticeships (usually around 12 months) and, when first introduced, did not necessarily involve the strict contract that apprenticeships did. Originally traineeships were offered only to people up to the age of 19 years. People who had left school without completing Year 12 were given preference.3 In later years the age limit was dropped.
The New Apprenticeships Scheme
In 1998, the Federal Government introduced the New Apprenticeships Scheme. This scheme included both traineeships and apprenticeships, and was introduced to make the systems more flexible for both students and employers. The scheme increased flexibility by providing: greater choice in the duration of training; different mixes of experiential and formal learning; and a choice of training provider for the off-the-job component. The introduction of new apprenticeships has abolished many of the formal distinctions between apprenticeships and traineeships. Indeed, a traditional apprenticeship is not necessarily the only means of becoming a tradesperson, and it is also possible to obtain an apprenticeship in a non-trade field.
As a result of all these changes, apprenticeships and traineeships have become difficult to identify and measure separately. However, the need to distinguish between these two groups is relevant when information about the potential number of qualified tradespersons is required or when numbers of trainees are required.
Detailing recent trends
There are two main sources of data which provide information about the number and characteristics of apprentices and trainees in Australia. These are: the ABS Transition from Education to Work survey, a population survey which includes information about people who state that they are doing an apprenticeship; and the NCVER collection, which counts the number of people undertaking employment-based training through contracts of training (commonly known as trainees and apprentices).
Although the data are not directly comparable (see box on page 103), crude estimates of the numbers of trainees, as opposed to the numbers of apprentices, can be approximated by taking the difference between the figures from the respective sources. The resultant data highlights the rapid growth of traineeships that occurred in the mid to late 1990s, and that this growth has occurred in non-trade related occupations.
Between 1995 and 1999 the ABS Survey showed that the number of apprentices increased from 114,600 to 132,200 people (that is, by 17,600 people). Over this same period the combined number of apprentices and trainees, as seen from the NCVER collection, increased from 136,000 to 256,500. The difference between the two collections suggests that the number of people undertaking traineeships increased by 102,900 (from 21,400 to 124,300) between 1995 and 1999.
Changes within the trade-related occupations, both with respect to the numbers of apprentices and trainees (the latter being less common within trade-related occupations) have not been as marked. Between 1995 and 1999 the ABS survey data showed that the number of apprentices in trade-related occupations increased from 99,800 to 112,700. On the other hand, the number of trainees, as estimated, was slightly lower in 1999 (18,000) than it was in 1995 (20,400).
Given the large overall increase in traineeships over this period, it is clear that the increase in traineeships occurred in fields other than in the trade-related occupations.
Field of occupation
In 1999, the ABS survey found that the most common trades for apprenticeships were the construction and engineering trades (28,300 and 23,700 respectively).
Other more common choices included the automotive and food trades (18,000 and 10,600 apprentices respectively). A similar distribution of numbers, even though they are based on preliminary reported data (see box on page 103 for explanation) can be seen from the available NCVER data which explicitly includes trainees within the counts.
Participation by age
Traditionally, apprenticeships were exclusively for training young school leavers to take up a trade for life.6 However, with the need for a more flexible workforce and for an array of retraining opportunities throughout people’s lives, most apprenticeships are now available to people of all ages
Nevertheless, young people still dominate apprentice numbers. In 1999, the ABS survey found that 56% of apprentices were aged 15-19 years and a further 36% were aged 20-24 years. However, the age distribution varied between trades. For example, electrical and electronics trade apprentices and construction apprentices were less likely to be aged 15-19 years (45% and 50% respectively) than food and automotive apprentices (67% and 65%, respectively).
The NCVER collection found consistently higher proportions of people in the older age groups learning a trade than did the ABS survey. The difference suggests that older people are more likely to obtain trade training through traineeships than through apprenticeships, possibly because they prefer the shorter contracts of training offered for traineeships.
Occupations associated with the trades have been, and continue to be, some of the most sex-segregated in Australia. With the exception of hairdressing (which has always been predominantly female), most trades have been male dominated. Since the early 1980s strategies and programs have been put in place to reduce this dominance by encouraging females into trades such as plumbing, bricklaying and printing.5
In 1999, male apprentices still greatly outnumbered female apprentices: by almost seven to one, from the ABS survey data. The only trade besides hairdressing with a sizeable number of women apprentices was the food trade (21% were female, compared with less than 10% in most other trades). The NCVER collection found similar sex ratios in the trade fields to the ABS survey, suggesting that trainees in these fields have a similar gender profile as apprentices in these fields. However, as the numbers of trainees in these fields are relatively small, this finding is inconclusive.
In fields other than the trades, where traineeships are much more common, the NCVER collection shows a high proportion of female participants (51%). Even among apprentices in fields other than the trades, as seen from the ABS data, the proportions of female participants was relatively high (31% compared to 9% in the trade-related occupations taken as a whole).
1 Commonwealth-State Apprenticeship Inquiry 1954, Report of the Committee, March 1954, W.M. Houston, Government Printer, Melbourne.
2 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1999, Transition from Education to Work, May 1999, cat. no. 6227.0, ABS, Canberra.
3 Department of Employment, Education and Training 1992, Essential Features of Australia’s Training Systems, produced for VEETAC, AGPS, Canberra.
4 Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics 1923, Official Year Book of the Commonwealth of Australia, No. 16, Albert J. Mullett, Government printer, Melbourne.
5 Department of Employment, Education and Training 1987, Report of the Working Group on Women in Apprenticeship, AGPS, Canberra.
6 Department of Labour and National Service August 1967, Essential Features of Australian Apprenticeship Systems, prepared by the Department of Labour and National Service for the Australian Apprenticeship Advisory Committee, DLNS, Melbourne.