The Centre for Education and Training team recently spoke with Ross Kelly about the support needed to ensure apprentice and trainee competence. Ross is a business consultant who was previously Training Manager at William Adams CAT and General Manager – Training at Civil Contractors Federation Victoria.

Through his work Ross has had first-hand experience with the disruption to education that COVID-19 has brought. He related the experience of many students who have spent close to two years ‘attending’ online training from their bedroom, where they have missed the opportunity to build communication and people skills. He says these challenges are exacerbated in the vocational education and training (VET) sector, which includes apprenticeships, traineeships and units of competence. VET traditionally includes a high percentage of practical learning and assessments, catering for the way these students learn. To provide verifiable competency and safety, tasks must be physically completed and witnessed in a learning or workplace environment.


VET has turned to online platforms to deliver material that would have been taught in the classroom. Due to concern over the quality of these materials and that they may be replacing practical exercises, the Australia Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) worked closely with providers to create and implement new standards in 2020. The standards prevents reduced integrity of training outcomes. 

Online Training

Online training platforms have flourished during this period. They vary from online slides to systems that are interactive or courses via live video feed. Outcomes vary greatly, partly due to student engagement and comfort with online learning.

Ross suggests any employer with employees undertaking training through a training provider should maintain a relationship with their provider and monitor their staff’s progress and feedback. Students who are not progressing as quickly as the majority and not receiving support may become disengaged. Poor online content can also lead to disaffection.

One emerging issue is the inability to verify that the enrolled student is the person submitting assessments, potentially allowing students to be certified for competencies they don’t hold.  Employers should ensure the provider has implemented means to verify identity during assessments. An employer may also run a competency check before allowing the individual to carry out the task in a live work situation.

Most courses contain practical exercises and assessments. Providers have worked with the governing bodies to find ways to deliver these in a COVID-safe manner or through simulated exercises. As the consumer the employer has the right to determine whether these provide sufficient competency and safety skills for use in their workplace. 

Apprenticeship and traineeship completions

Lockdowns and the inability to deliver hands-on practical sessions while being COVID-safe or meet guidelines has reduced the ability to deliver some subjects in a timely fashion, if at all. Apprenticeship and Traineeship completions crashed in late 2020, because many students were not able to complete their course requirements.

The percentage of VET students withdrawing from their courses (across all certificate levels) is traditionally around 55 per cent. Reasons include poor choice of candidate (including choosing a friend or relative), poor choice of course, insufficient support for the candidate, employers not understanding their responsibilities, employers downsizing or closing. If online training reduces motivation, completions may fall further, so support is particularly critical. It is vital there is workplace support in the form of a mentor, access to senior staff if they have concerns, and independent support services. Monitoring the progress can help the apprentice/trainee feel valued.

Re-skilling staff can be a valuable use of quieter periods. However, when enrolling staff in further learning and development, their state of mind should be assessed to confirm they are capable of the work involved. Time for study during business hours should be provided.

The Future for the trades pipeline

Trade commencements fell sharply in March 2020 until an increase in December due to new subsidies. However, businesses in Victoria and NSW may have cut back on training in 2021 due to the financial pressures of lockdown. If too many companies cut back on training, it could mean a shortage of skilled workers in future years.

Ross told the Centre team that if employers ask “what if we train them and they leave?”, he responds with “what if you don’t and they stay?” One reason good staff leave is a lack of development opportunities. He believes now is the time for a company to review and plan its staff development to be ready as the economy continues to open up.

References: Australian Skills Quality Authority, National Centre for Vocational Education Research, Bendigo Kangan TAFE.