Data released by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) in December indicates that apprenticeship commencement numbers are returning to pre-pandemic levels. Numbers spiked during the pandemic after the Commonwealth Government introduced generous wage subsidies to maintain numbers amid fears that commencements would drop. As shown in the diagram below, commencement numbers did begin to drop, but the stimulus measures and quick recovery of the labour market reversed the trend and led to apprentice numbers rising to unprecedented levels.

Apprentice Commencements

Source: NCVER 2023, Apprentices and trainees 2023 June quarter, NCVER, Adelaide

The Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements wage subsidy that led to the big increase in commencement numbers provided 50% of an apprentice’s wage for the first 12 months, up to certain limits. The current incentives program offers a wage subsidy of 10% of an apprentice’s wage (up to $1,500 per quarter) for the first 12 months if the apprentice is training in an occupation listed on the Australian Apprenticeship Priority List. This list is restricted to occupations with strong demand for skilled workers and includes most traditional trades. Other occupations are eligible for a hiring incentive of $3,500.

Concerningly, cancellations and withdrawals have continued to increase to the highest levels seen in the past decade. Those numbers started rising when the pandemic commenced in 2020 after years of falling, but they have continued to rise long after the effects of the pandemic eased. Cancellations for the 12 months to 30 June 2023 were 7.4% higher than what they were the previous year and more than 50% higher than for the previous 12 months period.

Apprentice Cancellations

Source: NCVER 2023, Apprentices and trainees 2023 June quarter, NCVER, Adelaide

Peter Canavan - Senior Policy Officer, Education and Training

Peter contributes to education and training policy and manages Centre projects including state industry skills advisory projects and apprenticeship and traineeship projects that often explore new models. Peter has many years' experience in the vocational training sector, and has managed projects for the Victorian Government relating to education and training.