Apprenticeships are under pressure, with latest figures revealing falling numbers, high injury rates, fatigue management problems and a shift in training priorities.

The Australian Council for Private Education and Training (ACPET) said a combination of the end of the mining boom, fewer manufacturing and engineering jobs, currency movements, and “relatively high unemployment” had hurt the apprenticeship sector.

The situation had been exacerbated by decisions by governments to prioritise funding (incentives, user choice) away from traineeships.

“ACPET believes these government policy and funding decisions need to be reviewed as a matter of priority,” ACPET’s submission to the Inquiry into vocational education and training in New South Wales says.

Safety an issue

A shift in government training priorities is not the only issue facing the sector, with latest WorkSafe Australia figures revealing workers aged under 25 years (young workers) account for 20% of work- related injuries experienced by all Australian workers.

The 2009-10 figures reveal an injury rate of 66.1 work-related injuries per 1000 workers – 18% higher than the rate for workers aged 25 years and over (older workers: 56.2 injuries per 1000 workers). While young male workers had higher incidence rates of work-related injury than their female counterparts, on a ‘per hour’ basis young female workers had a frequency rate of injury 13% higher than young male workers.

This corresponds to an injury rate of 66.1 work-related injuries per 1000 workers – 18% higher than the rate for workers aged 25 years and over (older workers: 56.2 injuries per 1000 workers).

While young male workers had higher incidence rates of work-related injury than their female counterparts, on a ‘per hour’ basis young female workers had a frequency rate of injury 13% higher than young male workers.

Young shift workers working on a full time basis had substantially higher incidence rates of work-related injury than their non-shift working counterparts, suggesting fatigue management may be an issue.

When hours worked were considered, young female part time shift workers had the highest frequency rate of work-related injury compared to their young male and older worker counterparts.

ACPET calls for govt reforms

The combination of changed government priorities and pressures on the sector has prompted ACPET to call for a review of government policy covering apprenticeships.

ACPET said there was no truth in speculation students and employers were dissatisfied with the training provided – or that quality was declining as a result of recent VET reforms. Rather survey data indicated a “very-high” level of satisfaction.

ACPET said National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) 2014 student data indicated 88.9 % of graduates in NSW were satisfied with the overall quality of training, compared to 87.6% nationally. The “high levels” of satisfaction had been maintained over the past decade, its submission says.

For employers, the most recent NCVER data (2013) indicated those in NSW had similar engagement with the accredited training system as those nationally (52.9% compared to 51.9%).

Nationally, employer satisfaction levels since 2005 had risen and fallen in line with their use of the accredited VET system, which itself “broadly tracks” economic circumstances

In terms of ‘voting with their feet’, 45.3% of employers nationally used private training providers as their main provider of nationally recognised training compared to 16.7% for TAFE and 22.7% for professional or industry organisations.

ACPET said the growth in contestability in VET over the past 20 years, accompanied by the increase in number and diversity of providers, has had a marked impact on the affordability and accessibility of VET as private providers.

The greater efficiency (and flexibility) of private provision was highlighted in a report by Professional Fellow at Victoria University Peter Noonan in an August 2014 article in online publication, The Conversation, the submission argues. Put simply, new delivery strategies that harness technology and adopt greater flexibility in regard to facilities and staffing are underpinning private provider efficiencies that are enabling more affordable and accessible VET without compromising quality or outcomes. High cost does not necessarily equal quality nor does low cost necessarily mean lack of quality.”

“It was noted above that NSW has the lowest proportion of contestable VET funding of any state and territory. ACPET analysis indicates this approach has had a significant adverse impact on the cost of delivering VET services.

The 2014 NCVER student outcome survey indicated those receiving training through government-funded private providers were more likely to be employed after training compared to TAFE graduates (79% vs. 74%). Of those not employed before training, a lower proportion of government-funded TAFE graduates were employed after training compared to those from private providers, at 42.3% and 47.2% respectively in 2014.

“While there has been some criticism that training packages do not meet industry demand, they do enable the flexibility for providers to tailor delivery resources and strategies to the needs of students and industry alike. It is also important to acknowledge that while VET training is closely aligned to the needs of the workforce only some 40% of graduates work in the field of their study. The portability and flexibility of VET qualifications, therefore, is important in maximising ongoing employment opportunities and responding to changing workforce needs.”

At the same time ACPET acknowledges that training packages do not (and cannot) meet all the skill needs of the workforce or students. Many ACPET members have developed and deliver accredited courses that respond to niche labour market, student and employer needs. They are integral to a flexible, responsive VET sector.

“In summary, the contracting arrangements have mismanaged the allocation of training places and excluded some markets altogether (eg, foundation skills). It has resulted in large increases in student contributions for some programs, the halving of the number of registered training organisations delivering government-funded training compared to previous arrangements. ACPET members have reported the misalignment of provider capacity and contract locations, contract caps that make delivery not viable and contracts not being awarded to high-quality providers with strong long-standing industry links.”

This flawed approach to allocating training places, including by region, has led to a very slow take-up of training places. If not remedied, it is likely to cause significant long-term damage for students, industry and providers.”

_______________________________________________

AlertForce offers a range of training courses in fatigue management. For details, go to http://alertforce.com.au/ohs-training-courses/fatigue-management/.