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Managing an Australian Apprentice

Information about supervising, helping and supporting your apprentice or trainee.

An important first step when managing an apprentice or trainee is to recognise that they may have little or no experience in a work environment.

While they will have a lot to learn, this does not mean that they are not able to make a valuable contribution from the very beginning of their Australian Apprenticeship. Many companies believe taking on apprentices and trainees is the main way in which they update the skills of their company.

This is only possible if an employer is committed to giving apprentices and trainees the opportunity to make a contribution, and value that contribution.

Carpenter apprentice being supervised with machinery

Expectations of supervisors

When taking on an apprentice or trainee employers are agreeing to help train them in the skills they need to become qualified. This means they need to show these employees how to perform tasks to the standard needed, and to guide them to achieve that standard.

This requires more than the usual amount of supervision. The Supervisor will also need to be aware of the training being completed through the Registered Training Organisation (eg.TAFE).

Not everyone will be a good supervisor of apprentices and trainees. Sometimes there will be few options, but when considering who should take on the role as supervisor it's important to remember that they will need to:

  • Have patience to train an inexperienced and probably a young person
  • Will need to be able to explain tasks, probably more than once
  • Will need to be readily available to demonstrate and observe the apprentice’s performance.

The below resources can provide more information and tips on how to supervise an apprentice or trainee.

NOTE: Although the above links may not represent your State or Territory, they may provide you with good examples of how you can supervise your apprentices and trainees. If you would like more state specific information, speak with your relevant industry body, Safe Work, or contact your local Apprenticeship Network Provider for advice.

What you need to know

Why is induction important?

A proper induction is always important for a new employee. It's important they know about the company's values and work practices, their role in the workplace and how to look after their own safety and the safety of the people they work with.

An induction can cover many things, but as a minimum it should raise workplace safety including any protective clothing and equipment, start and finish times, who to report to and any other key personnel the apprentice or trainee will deal with.  Apprentices and trainees will also need to discuss the training plan for the formal training component of their position.

As for any new employee, employers will need information like the apprentice's or trainee's tax file number, bank account details and superannuation details.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has an Induction Checklist which can help you identify all the topics you will need to discuss with your apprentice or trainee.

Have you considered mentoring?

Mentoring is about recognising the importance of developing both the skills and the character of employees including apprentices and trainees. It is about taking the time to coach them on the job and take an interest in their formal training and personal development.

Businesses that put resources into mentoring their apprentices and trainees achieve a much higher completion rate. Larger companies may employ people especially for that purpose, but there are resources available to help small business improve their own mentoring practices or tap into external support.

Mentors also need to be aware of how an apprentice or trainee is being treated by other workers. Making sure that all staff are treated well and treat others well, that there is no bullying, especially of new staff and that there are opportunities to discuss situations will assist in creating a happy work place.

For further information:

Hiring young people in your business

A common complaint from apprentice supervisors is that young people don’t want to put in the effort to learn properly, spend too much time on their phones, or are more interested in activities outside work.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget what it was like to be young. Young people can be more impulsive, take more risks or they sometimes don’t think through the consequences of an action. These things can develop with more maturity and it can be useful having a meaningful conversation with the young person about the issue.

Taking the time to understand younger generations can help improve relationships at work. Respect is a two-way street and if a supervisor makes an effort to understand their apprentices that is usually reciprocated in the future.

A good place to start is by taking a look at an employers guide to employing young workers from the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Know the Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) laws

No one wants to work in an unsafe workplace, and everyone has the right to come home from work to their family and friends in one piece.

Understanding Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) laws and implementing processes and procedures will ensure that your staff are safe, and the risk of incidents happening in your workplace are decreased.

Apprentices are subject to the same workplace laws regarding safety, harassment and bullying as any other employee.

It is especially important for an employer to be mindful of these issues for apprentices because they are often young and inexperienced, and may be entering a culture where gentle bullying of apprentices was a long-standing tradition.

Employers should always be mindful of these issues and let staff know that poor behaviour is not tolerated.

It is also important to be mindful that apprentices and trainees are new to your workplace and new to the industry so may need additional advice or guidance especially when working near heavy or dangerous equipment. There are often restrictions to the type of work apprentices can undertake in each year of training. Talk to your training provider about these limits to jobs.

For further information:

Providing feedback

Providing feedback to apprentices is the best way for them to learn your ways of doing business. But there are good ways and bad ways to do it!

Negative feedback should be confidential and address ways to improve performance. Think about the reason for the feedback. Is it to vent frustration or gain improvement? If it’s more the former you should consider delaying the moment until you can discuss things calmly.

For further information:

Young man crossing arms while his employer is talking to him.

Dealing with problems and difficult situations

Sometimes apprentices and trainees may encounter difficult situations, as will any employee. There may be issues involving alcohol or drugs, for example, or issues in the employee's personal life. Sometimes these issues may be the cause of difficulties at work such as poor attendance or poor performance, or problems with workmates.

There are often established ways to deal with these issues in workplaces and they should be considered in the same way as for other employees. If you are having issues with your apprentice or trainee that you haven't been able to resolve internally, you can contact the Apprenticeship Network Provider who conducted the sign up, or your Group Training Organisation (if you use this service). These organisations can help resolve any workplace issues and may be able to provide external support and mentoring.

The Registered Training Organisation (RTO) delivering the course work can assist with any off the job training support to keep your apprentice or trainee on track with their training.

If there are issues that can not be resolved using the above organisations, each State Training Authority has Apprenticeship Field Officers who can provide advice and support to you and your apprentice or trainee.

Some apprentices will have financial concerns, especially if they are living independently. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has established a website called Money Smart that provides useful and understandable financial information for all Australians. It includes teaching resources designed for apprenticeship and traineeship teachers which may be useful.

For further information

The Fair Work Ombudsmen logo

Fair Work Ombudsmen

You can download templates to help you on a wide range of topics, including induction, timesheets and payslips.

Field Officer visiting apprentice at Workplace

Support

Your first point of contact for issues regarding an Australian Apprenticeship is your Australian Apprenticeship Support Network Provider.

A screenshot of the employing apprentices website page

Employing Apprentices website

Get helpful information about employing apprentices including information about supervising, mentoring, inductions and communication.