People starting apprenticeships and traineeships dipped slightly in the ACT despite a 140 per cent national increase, prompting calls for more funding and higher subsidies for vocational training in the Territory.
Although the total number of people in training increased by 1.7 per cent to 6380 last year, it was the slowest growth rate in the country by more than 10 percentage points, new data from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) revealed.
The steep increase between the December 2019 and December 2020 quarters was mainly off the back of the Commonwealth’s introduction of the Australian Government’s Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements wage subsidy.
The subsidy reimburses 50 per cent of the wages employers pay a new or recommencing apprentice or trainee for a 12-month period from the date of commencement, up to a maximum of $7000 per quarter.
In the ACT, commencements were down almost 6 per cent, mainly from the almost 14 per cent decline in trades.
Females were the most likely to give up on pursuing a VET course, with a drop of 7.5 per cent compared to a 4.4 per cent drop for males in the year to 31 December 2020.
An ACT Government spokesperson said the change in commencements was due to the Territory “coming off a high base”, and pointed to figures showing an increase of 36.2 per cent between 2015 and 2019, with commencements reaching a record number of 4790 in 2019.
Course completions also dipped 7.5 per cent compared to the previous year, although it is up almost 6 per cent from 2016.
Opposition leader Elizabeth Lee said the Territory’s skills and labour shortages were exacerbated by a lack of investment in the sector from the ACT Government.
“Last year the ACT Government cut funding for students across a range of vocational education qualifications, with cuts of between 30 and 50 per cent in key areas such as early childhood education, digital media and community services,” she said.
“It is clear from these figures that it is this government’s lack of respect and funding for the sector that has put the ACT at the bottom of the pack, which will have lasting impacts for the future of Canberra.”
Shadow Minister for Vocational Training and Skills James Milligan said the government was not doing enough to support the sector, offering the lowest subsidy levels in the country.
“Increased funding will help training organisations attract and retain apprentices to meet workforce needs,” he said.
The ACT Government has defended its handling of the tertiary education sector saying there has been a significant and consistent increase in the number of students undertaking government-funded training in recent years.
The government spokesperson said not all students were undertaking traineeships and apprenticeships because a lot of Canberra’s “knowledge-industry employers” are seeking workers with different skill sets.
“The ACT Government is committed to supporting more businesses to take on apprentices and trainees, particularly in the trades,” the spokesperson said.
“Current ACT Government subsidies are giving employers, future employees and students the support they need to succeed.”
Last week, the ACT Government released its latest User Choice subsidy list with subsidy levels for most of the qualifications on the Skills Needs List increasing.