Have apprenticeships had their day? Do we need another model?

As I am sure everyone is aware there has been another drop in the numbers of traditional and non-traditional apprenticeship and traineeship numbers of about 5.7% from September 2015 to September 2016 according to the most recent figures from NCVER.  Not surprisingly, accusations and opinions about what is the cause of this and who is to blame have been flying around since the figures were released. Amidst all of this I can’t help but wonder if our traditional indenture based 3-4 year apprenticeship system has not passed its use by date and that perhaps we should move away from this model to something more in keeping shall we say with the modern world.

Why do I say this, well that is fairly simple.  Despite some relatively cosmetic changes apprenticeships in Australia have not changed very much at all in any real sense.  For the most part apprentices still need to serve their time with an employer for up to 4 years, regardless of whether or not they are competent at some point prior to that.  The prime reason for this seems to be that a business which takes on an apprentice does get any ‘payback’ for that apprentice until their third or fourth year.  In a time of rapidly changing approaches to  technology, work,  learning, and almost everything in society a ‘learning at the feet of the master’ style of model seems to me to be either redundant or rapidly becoming so.  Surely there is a better way for us to produce our apprentices and future trades people than a time served style model.

I have always wondered why trades are not treated in the same way as other training programs are treated..  Theory and a substantial amount of practical knowledge and application being learned and undertaken in classroom style environments, with employment, residency or internship honing the application of those skills in actual working environments.  There could still even be some form of capstone test or other form of certification that could be undertaken at some point after the conclusion of formal study prior to a ‘full license’ being given to a person.  Given that we know that people learn and become competent at vastly different rates and have vastly different preferred ways of learning and assimilating information our standard apprenticeship models seem to say that regardless of all of this you have to serve a certain amount of time before you can be deemed to be competent.  Surely it seems to me models which allow people to become competent in their own time, and when ready and able, to be deemed as such.

It strikes me that the motivating reason for having the model that we have, has far more to do with the needs of the employer of an apprentice, than it does with either the needs of the apprentice themselves or the future need we as a country may have for qualified professional trades people and if that is the case then if seems to me that we have got our view on apprenticeships very very wrong.

But hey that is just my opinion.

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About pauldrasmussen
Paul Rasmussen is one of Australia’s most widely read Vocational Education and Training Commentators. He provides deep, unbiased analysis and insights not only on topical issues, but also on the underlying structure and policy which supports the industry. His writing and analysis has been praised for its uncompromising and thought provoking style and its ability to focus on the issues of real importance to the sector. He has advised various government departments and ministers, training providers, public and private organisations, not for profits and small to medium enterprises on the VET sector and the issues and opportunities facing it. He is one of Australia’s most awarded learning professionals and a regular speaker at a range of conventions and forums. His extensive experience in vocational education, and learning and development coupled with formal qualifications in philosophy, ethics, business and education management allow Paul to provide a unique view of the road ahead and how to navigate it.

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