Australian Apprenticeship commencements
Australian Apprenticeship commencements vary depending on many factors, including:
- Policy changes that impact the breadth of available Australian Apprenticeships
- Economic conditions and pressure on employers to expand or reduce their workforce
- Skills needs in industries where Australian Apprenticeships are a common entry pathway
- Incentives changes that impact specific cohorts or areas of Australian Apprenticeships
- Increasingly and with greater impact in a time of labour shortage, preferences and aspirations of the future workforce, for example in where, how and why they work.
Most recently, Covid-19 has impacted Australian Apprenticeships in several ways:
- Lockdowns and forced work from home conditions in many industries
- Employer incentives to retain their Australian Apprentices
- Employer incentives to hire new Australian Apprentices
- High labour market demand and low unemployment, challenging availability of potential Australian Apprentices.
The rapidly evolving environment during Covid-19 first caused a slowdown in commencements, before a large increase when new incentives were introduced. By the end of 2021 this ‘boom’ in commencements had slowed in the wake of a tight labour market and shortage of new hires.
As we look back on 20 years of data, we will consider some of the more impactful economic challenges and policy or incentives changes that may have impacted Australian Apprenticeships.
This is not an evaluation of changes; we are interpreting trends in Australian Apprenticeships in light of events that may have impacted them. High-quality evaluation should be built into programs and initiatives at the time of creation to enable a full understanding of impacts and inform future changes.
Key events impacting Australian Apprenticeships commencement trends:
- 1983: Disabled Australian Apprentice incentives introduced for employers, which are ongoing
- 1999: Rural and regional skill shortage incentives introduced for employers (removed in 2022 incentives update)
- 2003: Australian School-based Apprenticeship incentives introduced for employers (removed in 2022 incentives update)
- 2004: National Skills Shortage strategy introduced for employers
- 2007-09: Global Financial Crisis affects the Australian economy and labour market
- 2009-12: National Partnership Agreement on Productivity Places Program includes funding for job hunters and existing workers in Australian Apprenticeships at a range of qualification levels
- 2010: Adult Australian Apprentice incentives introduced for employers (removed in 2022 incentives update)
- 2011: Funding changes impacting employer incentives for Cert II for non-equity groups
- 2012: Funding changes impacting employer incentives for existing workers not on the Skills Need List
- 2012: Funding changes impacting employer incentives for Diploma and Advanced Diploma qualifications not in aged care, childcare, or enrolled nursing
- 2020-21: Supporting Apprentices and Trainees wage subsidy offered during Covid-19
- 2020-22: Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements wage subsidy offered during Covid-19.
20 years ago, in 2002, Australian Apprenticeship commencement and completion numbers were substantially higher than 2021. Figure 1 shows the trends in commencements and completions, with an initial period of somewhat stable but slow growth, to a peak in commencements in 2012 and completions in 2012/13.
Between 2009 and 2012 the National Partnership Agreement on Productivity Places Program supported an increase in commencements across a range of qualification levels, industries, for both job seekers and existing workers. The end of this agreement coincided with a range of other incentives changes and removals, contributing to the decline in commencements from 2012 to 2019.
While the removal of the Agreement funding and change in existing worker and other incentives may be at least partly responsible for the initial steep decline, it cannot explain the continuation of decline for close to a decade.
From 2020 there is a noticeable uplift in commencements due to wage subsidies introduced during Covid-19. While this increase in commencements looks incredibly large when compared with the 5 years prior, the 20-year timeline shows that commencements are still at only around 65% of the 2012 peak. Both peaks are due to demand created by incentives, although in difference circumstances.
When compared with average commencements from 2002-2011 (the first 10 years of this timeseries), 2021 commencements are around 77%. In that 10-year period from 2002-2011, commencements never dropped below 250,000, while from 2013 to 2021, commencements never reached this figure.
Figure 1: Commencement and completion numbers, 2002-2021 (‘000s)
This report breaks down patterns in Australian Apprenticeships for targeted groups, including those which are discussed in the Australian Government’s Jobs + Skills Summit Issues Paper, released in the lead up to the September Jobs and Skills Summit.
State and territory commencement trends
Trends in Australian Apprenticeships across the states and territories mirror similar patterns, with a few notable exceptions. NSW, VIC and QLD are the three largest states for commencements, with WA and SA, then TAS, ACT and NT following.
Figure 2 shows the number of commencing Australian Apprentices for each state and territory. This demonstrates that overall trends in the rise and fall of commencement numbers tend to affect all states. The smaller states and territories, while having a minor share of the market, follow similar patterns to the larger states, which can be clearly seen in the data.
Figure 2: Commencements by state or territory, 2002-2021 (‘000s)
Figure 3 shows the percentage share of commencements for each state and territory. From this figure we can see how the states compare.
Victoria has shown the most variability in commencements, dropping from the largest state in 2002 to second by the mid-2000’s, and third largest by 2017. Queensland has shown the best growth comparatively across this time, moving from third largest in 2002 and trending towards becoming the largest state for commencements in the future. Western Australia has grown their share of commencements from around 2012, while South Australia has reduced their share over this same time.
Figure 3: Share of commencements by state and territory, 2002-2021 (%)
Trade and non-trade
Australian Apprenticeships cover both trade and non-trade occupations. Trade occupations include those classified as ‘Technicians and Trades Workers’ under ANZSCO, while non-trade occupations include all other ANZSCO groups.
Trade and non-trade occupations are not the same as apprenticeship vs traineeship classifications. AATIS’ Summary Statistics document gives data on apprenticeship vs traineeship commencements. More information about classifications can be found in the notes and definitions at the end of the Summary Statistics document.
There is a long history of apprenticeship models in trade areas, while this is typically less established in non-trade areas. In some trade occupations an Australian Apprenticeship is the only or predominant pathway to becoming qualified or licenced.
Figure 4 shows trade and non-trade commencements over the past 20 years. Trade commencements grew slowly but steadily between 2002 and 2012, with a slow downturn from 2013 to 2019. In comparison, non-trade commencements initially start strong but plumet from 2012.
The downturn in 2012 is often attributed to changes in incentives for existing workers in non-priority or shortage skills areas. Around the same time there were also changes to incentives for Certificate II, Diploma and Advanced Diploma level qualifications, which would also have impacted predominantly on non-trade commencements.
Despite these changes targeting non-trade occupations, the downturn in commencements also affects trade commencements, although to a smaller extent.
Figure 4: Trade and non-trade commencements, 2002-2021 (‘000s)
Australian Apprenticeships are suitable for new entrants to the labour market, career changers or those re-entering the workforce, and for upskilling and reskilling within a current career.
Existing worker apprenticeships and traineeships are a method for employers to improve the skills of their current workforce and assist their staff to gain formal qualifications.
Commencements for existing and non-existing workers are shown in Figure 5, with the percentages of existing and not existing commencements shown in Figure 6.
From the data we can see that existing worker Australian Apprenticeships rose from 2004 to 2012, before sharply dropping in 2013 and 2014. This is partly due to the removal of employer incentives for many existing workers. However, at the same time there were also declines in not existing worker commencements, which would not have been affected by this incentive change.
It is difficult to attribute exact cause and effect of incentives and economic conditions during the period leading up to and including the drop from 2012, due to the number of varying incentives and wage top-ups available. For example, from 2007 to 2010 the Support for Mid Career Apprentices impacted Australian Apprentices aged over 30, and the Apprentice Wage Top Up impacted Australian Apprentices under 30.
When the BAC wage subsidy was introduced in 2020, existing worker commencements increased at a faster rate than not existing worker commencements. This was then followed by a decline in existing worker commencements in 2021, potentially due to changes in BAC eligibility limiting incentives for this group.
Figure 5: Existing worker commencements, 2002-2021 (‘000s)
The share of existing workers was greatest in 2012 when the existing worker commencement peak occurred, before widening again until the 2020 small peak.
Figure 6: Existing worker commencements, 2002-2021 (%)
While Australian Apprenticeships are available at a variety of qualification levels, Certificate III qualifications are the most common. Figure 7 shows the number of commencements at qualification levels, while Figure 8 shows the percentage share at each level.
The decline in commencements from 2012 is most noticeable in Certificate IV and Diploma and above qualifications, while Certificate III commencements also declined. Despite the incentives change impacting Certificate II qualifications from 2011, we can see that these had already been declining from 2002 and now make a small portion of overall commencements.
Figure 7: Commencements by qualification level, 2002-2021 (‘000s)
Figure 8: Share of commencements by qualification, 2002-2021 (%)
Certificate III qualifications are suited to most entry-level workers across a range of industries, while lower-level qualifications provide benefits to groups typically covered by equity incentives.
Existing workers and qualification levels
Figure 9 breaks down qualification level commencements for existing workers only. It shows that lower-level certificates have been rarely used for existing workers, with the majority of commencements in Certificate III and above qualifications.
From 2009 to 2012 the National Partnership Agreement on Productivity Places Program included specific funding for existing workers in Diploma and Advanced Diploma qualifications including those undertaken as part of an Australian Apprenticeship. The impact of this funding arrangement can be clearly seen in Figure 9 with a large increase in commencements followed by a rapid decline at the end of the funding.
Certificate IV commencements had been rising prior to the introduction of this Agreement but saw a similar decline when funding and incentives ended. Certificate III commencements continue to make up the largest share of existing worker commencements, with incentives still available under strict eligibility criteria.
Figure 9: Existing worker commencements by qualification level, 2002-2021 (‘000s)
Australian School-based Apprenticeships
Australian School-based Apprenticeships (ASbAs) combine an Australian Apprenticeship with schooling, allowing a student to work towards their apprenticeship or traineeship qualification and high school certificate at the same time.
Update of ASbAs has remained relatively low across 20 years, without the same types of fluctuations seen amongst non-ASbA commencements. Figure 10 shows the number of ASbA and non-ASbA commencements, while Figure 11 shows the percentages of commencements for both groups.
Figure 10: Commencements for ASbA and non-ASbA, 2002-2021 (‘000s)
The introduction of employer incentives for ASbAs in 2003 did see an initial increase from around 2% of all commencements in 2002 to 6% of commencements in 2006. This slow but steady increase continued into the mid-2010’s with a high of around 11% of commencements, before dropping slightly during Covid-19.
The BAC wage subsidy did not noticeably affect ASbA commencement numbers. The 2022 update to incentives removed specific employer incentives for ASbAs, although ASbAs are eligible for regular incentives and wage subsidies when meeting other criteria.
Figure 11: Commencements for ASbA and non-ASbA, 2002-2021 (%)
Qualification levels for ASbAs
The qualification levels that ASbAs typically undertake reflect the entry level nature and prior experience of these students. Shown in Figure 12, lower-level qualifications have always made up the vast majority of commencements for ASbAs.
Until 2008, Certificate I and II qualifications were the most common for ASbA commencements, which was taken over by Certificate III qualifications. After this point the number of Certificate III commencements continued to rise, while Certificate I and II commencements fell.
The shift from Certificate I and II to Certificate III qualifications for ASbAs follows a similar trend as for all commencements, as discussed in the qualification levels section of this report.
There are very few ASbA commencements in Certificate IV and above qualifications, which are typically more suitable for more experienced workers who have completed schooling or a VET qualification. These qualifications are also typically used to train staff into roles requiring higher levels of responsibility or technical capacity.
Figure 12: Commencements for ASbA by qualification level, 2002-2021 (‘000s)
Participation by demographic groups
Australian Apprenticeships are a good pathway for a wide range of diverse individuals. They can help people gain entrance into the workforce and into their career.
The Jobs + Skills Summit Issues Paper contains a section on reducing barriers to employment, which Australian Apprenticeships are well placed to do. Specifically discussed in this section of the Paper are “younger and older people, First Nations people, women, people with disability, unpaid carers, culturally and linguistically diverse people, and those living in certain regional and remote areas.”
Despite Australian Apprenticeships being a good pathway for many of these groups, the data shows that uptake has typically not increased over the past 20 years. Here we break down trends for some of the groups discussed in the Paper.
Note: Where ‘not known’ responses are given in the data, percentage calculations include these in the total responses. Percentage totals may therefore not sum to 100%.
The age group of commencing Australian Apprentices, shown in Figure 13 and by percentage in Figure 14, demonstrates that this is not just a pathway for youth.
While younger Australian Apprentices (19 years and under) are typically the most numerous group of commencements, those aged 25 to 44 years, 20 to 24 years, and 45 years and over, all represent significant percentages of commencements.
Funding and incentives play a clear role in driving commencements by those aged 25 and over. The data shows an increase from 2009 to 2012 in line with the National Partnership Agreement on Productivity Places Program, then decreasing in line with the end of this Agreement and other changes to incentives.
Figure 13: Commencements by age group, 2002-2021 (‘000s)
Looking at the percentage share of commencements by age group, from the end of the Agreement in 2012 through to the start of Covid-19 in 2020, the share of commencements by those aged 19 and younger continued to increase. When the BAC wage subsidy was introduced in 2020, we see that commencements by this group did increase, but the overall share of commencements fell. This is due to a greater increase by the 20 to 44 year age groups.
When considering the uptake of Australian Apprenticeships by age group, it is important to note the differences in potential wages and incentives by age. Younger apprentices and trainees (aged 20 years and under) may sit under junior wages, while adult (21 and over) and mature (45 and over) apprentices and trainees could require higher wages. Fair Work sets out wages by age for these groups.
To offset the higher wages of adult and mature Australian Apprentices, targeted incentives have been offered for eligible groups. These incentives were removed from the 2022 update, with the future impact of this change yet to be seen in the data.
The relative increase of adult apprentices under the BAC wage subsidy is a reminder of the effect of wages on hiring practices for Australian Apprenticeships, in the situation where a large percentage of the wage was being offset by the subsidy rather than a smaller commencement or completion incentive.
Figure 14: Commencements by age group, 2002-2021 (%)
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander apprentices and trainees
Education participation and achievement by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (referred to in the data as ‘Indigenous’) has been a focus of governments across Australia. As referred to in the Jobs + Skills Summit Issues Paper, “First Nations people are approximately 25 percentage points less likely to attain a year 12 or equivalent qualification than other Australians”.
Participation across Australian Apprenticeships, shown in Figure 15, has remained low and relatively stable across 20 years. The fluctuations in commencements by non-Indigenous Australians is mirrored to a very small extent by Indigenous commencements, but due to the small number of these, it is difficult to demonstrate on a chart.
Figure 16 shows the percentage of commencements for Indigenous Australians, which shows that fewer than 10% of all commencements are by Indigenous people. This gap widened slightly in 2020 and 2021, as the increase in commencements under the BAC wage subsidy was predominantly taken by non-Indigenous commencements.
Figure 15: Commencements for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, 2002-2021 (‘000s)
Figure 16: Commencements for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, 2002-2021 (%)
The qualifications undertaken by Indigenous Australian Apprentices are shown in Figure 17. This data indicates a strong growth in Certificate III commencements, accompanied by a decline in Certificate I and II commencements.
From the data in Figure 18 we can see that the percentage share of Certificate III commencement by Indigenous Australian Apprentices has increased compared to non-Indigenous commencements.
With a focus on educational attainment at year 12 or equivalent, it is positive that Australian Apprenticeships qualification levels undertaken by Indigenous Australians mirror that of other commencements.
The Jobs + Skills Summit Issues Paper also reflects on the lack of First Nations people in senior leadership roles. From the data we can see that higher level (Certificate IV and above) qualifications are undertaken by Indigenous Australian Apprentices in low levels, but that funding and incentives promoting these qualifications do have an impact. The increase from 2009 to 2012 mirrors that of all Certificate IV, Diploma and Advanced Diploma qualifications.
Figure 17: Indigenous Australian commencements by qualification level, 2002-2021 (‘000s)
Figure 18: Certificate III commencements for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, 2002-2021 (%)
Many industries which Australian Apprenticeships can be undertaken in are highly gendered. This is particularly true in the trades, with the majority being male-dominated. Hairdressing, which is heavily female-dominated, and some of the cooking trades which tend to have more equal representation, are clear exceptions.
Non-trade areas can also be heavily gendered, with caring roles in childcare, aged care and individual support typically female-dominated industries.
Trade and caring roles are areas facing significant skills shortages, which is reflected in the Australian Apprenticeships Priority List. Encouraging greater update in these areas is critical for the Australian economy, as discussed in the Jobs + Skills Summit Issues Paper in the section on “Delivering a high-quality labour force through skills, training and migration”.
Figure 19 shows commencement numbers for males and females, while Figure 20 shows the percentage share of commencement for both groups.
Figure 19: Commencements by reported gender, 2002-2021 (‘000s)
The data shows that trends in commencements follow similar patterns for both males and females. The previously discussed peaks and troughs in commencements are not limited to one group over the other. However, looking at the percentage share of commencement over time, it can be seen that the decline from 2012 to 2020 affected female commencements at a greater rate than male commencements.
Figure 20: Commencements by reported gender, 2002-2021 (%)
Trade commencements by gender
The overall lower commencement numbers, and the steeper decline for female commencements, is likely mirroring that females are significantly less likely to be commencing an Australian Apprenticeship in a trade occupation. Non-trade occupations typically do not attract the same types of incentives or funding compared with trades.
Figure 21 gives trade commencement numbers for males and females, while Figure 22 shows the percentage share of commencements for both groups.
As can be seen in these graphs, trade commencements for males are many times that of females, even when including the female-dominated hairdressing occupation. Significant work has been undertaken by groups attempting to encourage employers to take on more female trade apprentices, and women in trades groups trying to attract more females into roles. Despite this, the number of commencements remains low and the percentage share of females in trades has not increase.
The highest percentage of female trade commencements was 19% in 2002, the earliest year in the time series.
Figure 21: Trade commencements for males vs females, 2002-2021 (‘000s)
Figure 22: Trade commencements for males vs females, 2002-2021 (%)
Community and Personal Service Workers commencements by gender
While Australian Apprenticeships data typically uses the breakdown of trade versus non-trade, this combines a number of ‘non-trade’ occupational groups together without reference to the importance of many of these occupations.
Community and personal service workers are an important group of skilled workers, many of which are in shortage and are included on the Australian Apprenticeships Priority List. To be on the list, occupations must be in either the technicians and trades workers (trade) group, or community and personal services group. Occupations on this list include aged and disabled carers, child care workers, dental assistants, enrolled nurses, and diversional therapists.
While trade occupations are heavily male-dominated, community and personal service occupations are heavily female-dominated. In both cases, their related industries are missing out on potential staff because of the gender-dominated stereotypes and work environments, while potential staff are missing out on career pathways in these industries.
Figure 23 shows the number community and personal service Australian Apprenticeship commencements by gender, and Figure 24 shows the relative percentages of male and female commencements.
While this occupational group is not as dominated by females as trades are by males, over the 20 years in the timeseries the percentage of males has declined. The increase to a peak in 2012 and subsequent decline affected both male and female Australian Apprentices in a similar way. The increase in 2020 under the BAC wage subsidy was greater for females than males, further driving the gender gap in this area.
Figure 23: Community and personal service commencement for males vs females, 2002-2021 (‘000s)
Figure 24: Community and personal service commencement for males vs females, 2002-2021 (%)
Apprentices and trainees with disability
A large proportion of the workforce has disability, with approximately one in six Australians living with disability. Given the range of Australian Apprenticeship occupations and qualification levels, this is a suitable pathway for many people with a variety of different abilities and disabilities.
Employer incentives for Australian Apprentices with disability have run throughout the entire 20-year period discussed in this paper, and continue under new incentives arrangements introduced in 2022, although the suitability of the available incentives is debated.
Despite this push to support people with disability into Australian Apprenticeships, the number and percentage of apprentices and trainees reporting disability remains low, as shown in Figure 25 and Figure 26.
Between 2002 and 2021, 3% or fewer Australian Apprentices reported disability. Over the 20-year period this ranged from only 1% to 3%.
It is unlikely that these figures are a true representation of Australian Apprentices with disability, as some would likely avoid reporting their disability to employers and on their Training Contract. Further work is needed to understand the true numbers of Australian Apprentices with disability and the barriers facing their employment into apprenticeships and traineeships.
Barriers to people with disability commencing an Australian Apprenticeship, and disclosing their disability to an employer, should be considered when aiming to improve commencements for this group.
Figure 25: Commencements for those with and without a reported disability, 2002-2021 (‘000s)
Figure 26: Commencements for those with and without a reported disability, 2002-2021 (%)
Main language at home
The Jobs + Skills Summit Issues Paper refers to culturally and linguistically diverse individuals as a cohort of importance for employment. One proxy measure that is often used is that of language spoken at home, with English or another language used as approximate categories.
The majority of Australian Apprenticeship commencements are by people who speak English as their main language at home, shown in Figure 27 with the relative percentages shown in Figure 28.
Australian Apprenticeship commencement by those who speak a non-English language at home increased to a peak in 2012, before dropping to 2020. This mirrors the same patterns as overall Australian Apprenticeship commencements.
Figure 27: Commencements by main language at home is English, 2002-2021 (‘000s)
Figure 28: Commencements by main language at home is English, 2002-2021 (%)
Regional and remote
The types of skills needed across Australia vary by the main types of industry in the area. Regional and remote areas typically have different dominant industries compared with major cities, particularly in agricultural, mining, manufacturing, and tourism. These are all industries with strong Australian Apprenticeship pathways, however industries such as mining may be supported by ‘fly in fly out’ (FIFO) workers who are based in cities.
Challenges facing regional areas can be significantly different to those in cities, particularly for Australian Apprenticeships which combine both employment and education. Travel, accessing training, and matching career aspirations with available jobs are all more acute in regional areas.
Figure 29: Commencements by remoteness, 2002-2021 (‘000s)
Figure 29 shows the number of commencements by remoteness, with Figure 30 giving the relative percentages of commencements. Australian Apprenticeships are most numerous in major cities, followed by regional areas, then remote areas.
There has been little change over 20 years in the relative percentage of Australian Apprentices across regional and remote areas, except for the 2012 commencement peak being much more evident in cities. While the uptick caused by the BAC wage subsidy is seen in cities and to a lesser extent in regional areas, this is not seen in remote areas. This would indicate that funding and incentives changes have less impact outside of the cities.
Figure 30: Commencements by remoteness, 2002-2021 (%)