Effects of COVID-19 on Apprenticeships and Traineeships

4bf428ed6af9ff680b7ac8b24b046f3d?s=50&d=mm&r=g Claudia Reiners
Head of Strategy

There’s no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected all spheres of life, from employment and education to recreation and leisure.

One domain which has been hit hard is the vocational education sector, with apprentices and trainees being left in the lurch part way through their studies due to the coronavirus-induced downturn.

We explore the short and long-term effects of the coronavirus pandemic as discussed in the Mitchell Institute’s ‘Impact of COVID-19 on Apprentices & Trainees’ report, and unpack what the findings could mean for the nation’s workforce and economy as a whole.

Short Term Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic

As social distancing measures were rolled out to limit the amount of non-essential close contact individuals could have, thousands of Australian trainees and apprentices quickly found themselves out of work.

Less experienced workers, apprentices and trainees are often the first to be let go when times are tough. On top of this, many apprentices and trainees work in the hospitality, beauty, construction or automotive industries, all of which have been hit extremely hard by coronavirus restrictions.

While it is unclear just how many apprentices and trainees have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, the Mitchell Institute forecasts that traineeship and apprenticeship enrolments will decline by 20% over the next few years, hitting their lowest point in 2023.

45,000 fewer commencements are expected in 2021 and 2022 compared to pre-coronavirus levels, with this number eventually dropping to 50,000 in 2023.

As a response to these worrying predictions, the Australian Government has provided some financial support to employers and workers.

The JobKeeper payment is perhaps the most well-known, being extended to eligible employers to help them retain staff.

Treasury estimates suggest that without JobKeeper, the unemployment rate would reach 15% instead of the current forecast of 10%.

The Federal Government has also launched the Supporting Apprentices and Trainees initiative, which offers a wage subsidy to help businesses with their cash flow and retention of existing apprentices and trainees.

Around 70,000 small businesses are expected to benefit from the subsidy, being able to keep 117,000 apprentices and trainees in work and training.

However, the Mitchell Institute warns that these measures could mask the real impact of the economic downturn, as we will only see the real decline in commencements 18-24 months after the onset of the recession.

So, what are the long-term effects we can expect to see from the coronavirus crisis, and what measures are being taken to boost the Australian economy’s resilience?

Long Term Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic

According to the Mitchell Institute, previous recessions have been characterised by an amplified relationship between the unemployment rate and apprenticeship/traineeship figures.

The last two recessions saw apprenticeship commencements (the number of apprenticeship/traineeship training contracts that started in a given time frame) declining by 30% for every five percentage points that the unemployment rate rose.

What this means in real terms, is that over 100,000 people will miss out on the vocational training that they otherwise would have completed.

The reduction in the number of apprenticeships and traineeships on offer will also lead to 50% of school leavers being classed as not in employment, education or training (NEET), which indicates disengagement and points towards poor long-term outcomes.

While stimulus packages and policies are assisting in the short term, the Mitchell Institute warns that these measures may actually mask the extent of the downturn.

On top of this, how many host employers will actually be able to retain their apprentices and trainees after the JobKeeper payments subside in September?

We are likely to see long-lasting ripples from this reduction in apprentice and trainee numbers, such as skills shortages and a slow economic recovery.

With apprentices and trainees being necessary for the economy to recover, but there being fewer opportunities for these young people due to the pandemic, we risk being stuck in a vicious cycle if the right measures aren’t taken now.

A number of policy responses are suggested by stakeholders, including:

  • Increasing employer incentives and wage subsidies, to mirror the government renovation grants that are being offered for the rest of the year to prop up the construction industry
  • Integrating new apprentices and trainees into public spending projects to expose them to more opportunities
  • Establishing labour market programs to enable eligible apprentices and trainees to still work in their field
  • Supporting registered training organisations (RTOs) in offering training to out-of-work apprentices, with TAFEs being particularly well equipped to offer simulated work environments in an age of online learning

With skills shortages already being pronounced prior to the pandemic, Australia simply can’t afford to let apprentices and trainees fall by the wayside.

Planning needs to be carried out to help apprentices and trainees stay employed, while also offering opportunities to new apprentices and trainees entering the workforce.

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Claudia Reiners
Head of Strategy

Higher Education Insights from the TEQSA Annual Report

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The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) has recently released its annual report on TEQSA registered Higher Education providers.

The organisation is Australia’s independent national quality assurance and regulatory agency for higher education, with the report providing an insight into the current state of the higher education sector in Australia.

Key Takeaways:

  • Student participation has seen a moderate increase, with a 4% rise in the number of students between 2016 and 2017 (1,537,081 students compared to 1,482,684 in the year prior).
  • The Higher Education courses of study with the highest growth were Health and Education, rising by 4% each from 2016 to 2017.
  • 92.2% of TEQSA providers are universities, while 5.2% are for-profit institutions, 2.1% are not-for-profit institutions, and 0.5% are TAFEs.

Provider Registration and Student Numbers On the Rise

The report points to the size and diversity of the Australian Higher Education sector, with 172 registered providers enrolling 1,537,081 students for all or part of 2017.

There has also been a moderate increase in student participation, with there being a 4% rise in the number of students between 2016 and 2017:


students in 2016


students in 2017

The number of international students is of particular note, with there being a 10% increase in the international student population from 2016 to 2017.

As of 2018, China remains the main international source market for universities and not-for-profit provider categories, while India is the main source market for the for-profit provider category.

Higher Education At a Glance

The Higher Education courses of study with the highest growth were Health and Education, rising by 4% each from 2016 to 2017. This points towards a greater awareness among students of the skills gaps set to emerge as Australia’s education and healthcare needs continue to grow.

Overall student numbers are still highest in the Management and Commerce fields of study, which have both the highest number of undergraduate and post-graduate students.

69% of Australia’s student population are domestic students, while 31% are international students. 75% of students are undertaking an undergraduate degree, while 25% are pursuing postgraduate qualifications.

Higher Education Provider Analysis

92.2% of TEQSA providers are universities, while 5.2% are for-profit institutions, 2.1% are not-for-profit institutions, and 0.5% are TAFEs. 42% of providers are registered in NSW, while 26% are in Victoria.

11 non-university providers had partial or full self-accrediting authority in 2017 (including one for-profit provider that was granted partial self-accrediting authority), hinting at the growing legitimacy of non-university education pathways.

New course accreditation has dropped compared to previous years, decreasing in every broad field of education (BFoE) and all of the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) levels except AQF level 7. The decline can be attributed to the introduction of the new standards, which came into effect on 1 January 2017.

Management and Commerce BFoE continue to have the largest number of course accreditations, followed by the Society and Culture BFoE (together accounting for 60% of new course accreditations in 2017).

Students In Higher Education

Australia’s student body continues to increase alongside its population, and as Australian educational institutions continue to draw the attention of international students. With the rise of education services for overseas students, these numbers can be expected to grow.

The popularity of Management and Commerce may be explained by the fields’ global relevance and appeal in the eyes of international students.

While universities still have the highest proportion of students, there has also been a gradual increase in student enrolments at other provider types, such as for-profit, not-for-profit and TAFE, for the past four years. The overseas sector experienced the largest growth out of all provider types, with not-for-profit providers seeing a 23% increase in overseas students from 2015.

A flexible student experience also seems to be a top priority for today’s learner, with there being a 39% increase in the number of commencing students attending via a flexible delivery mode since 2015. At the same time, however, the number of commencing students attending via a flexible delivery mode at TAFE and not-for-profit institutions declined by 30% and 19% respectively in 2016.

The Australian Higher Education sector continues to grow, drawing in more international students than ever. Provider categories are also diversifying further, catering to more types of students than ever before.

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Claudia Reiners
Head of Strategy

A Speedy Breakdown of the AQF Review 2019

Claudia Reiners
November 18, 2019

A Speedy Breakdown of the AQF Review 2019

4bf428ed6af9ff680b7ac8b24b046f3d?s=50&d=mm&r=g Claudia Reiners
Head of Strategy

A landmark review into the Australian Qualifications Review (AQF) has just been released, with many saying it could fuel the biggest shake-up in the Australian tertiary sector in many years.

The Review, led by Professor Peter Noonan of Victoria University, hopes to dismantle the ‘rigid’ structure of the current AQF, leading the way towards more flexible learning, and paving the path towards recognition of ‘micro-credentials’.

The AQF sets out the national policy for regulated educational qualifications in Australia, ranging from Certificate I to Doctoral Degrees. It has not been revised in seven years and was created in 1993.

Under pressure to answer current skills shortages and adapt to the needs of the modern economy, the Government will hopefully use the Review’s recommendations as a way to redefine learning outcomes and address the changing nature of work.

The Review gives weight on the idea of ‘lifelong learning’, and how shorter qualifications can and must form a part of education and training, particularly in emerging sectors.

The Review doesn’t explicitly state that micro-credentials should fall within the AQF framework but makes a case for short courses as being fundamental to filling the skills gap and widening support for them.

The Review also focuses on the need for better pathways between different education and training sectors and hopes to address some of the current perceptions surrounding the VET sector in Australia.

Recommendations include simplification in the AQF taxonomy and better flexibility in the pathways for students between the Vocational and Higher Education Systems.

With an ability to mix and match credits between VET and Higher Education, the Review hopes that this will lead to better job outcomes for students.

The AQF Review is one of many initiatives the Government is working on at the moment to try and revitalise the tertiary sector.

Of particular focus is VET, with Senator Michaelia Cash very keen on:

‘Our vision to create a strong VET sector is critical to our economy and to helping prepare Australians for the workforce of today and the future.’

This comes after the release of the Joyce Review into vocational education earlier this year.

There is also a planned review of the Australian Skills Quality Authority, as well as the newly formed National Skills Commission, which is intended to ‘drive long-term improvements to the VET sector’.

It’s still unclear what direction and decisions the government will take with their renewed focus on the tertiary sector, but it seems as if a change is on the horizon.

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Claudia Reiners
Head of Strategy
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