Apprentices hammered by COVID-19 crisis

Industry is calling for urgent government measures as Australian apprentice numbers plummet due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the National Australian Apprenticeship Association (NAAA), about 5.5 per cent of apprentices and trainees have been suspended or cancelled since March 1. National employer association the Ai Group says that apprentice commencements are down 60 per cent compared with the same period in 2018, and more than 18,000 apprentices and trainees have been either suspended or cancelled since March 1, 2020.

The outlook for the future is even grimmer. The Mitchell Institute estimates new apprenticeships/traineeships will decline by 30 per cent within two years. This equates to approximately 130,000 fewer new apprentices and trainees from the start of the pandemic to June 2023.

Not surprisingly, industry groups are appealing to the government to provide support, either by extending the JobKeeper scheme or by introducing other measures.

The Australian Refrigeration Council (ARC) has been in contact with the Prime Minister’s office, lobbying for an extension of the JobKeeper Payment scheme.

“The Australian government’s JobKeeper Payment scheme has ensured many refrigeration, air conditioning and automotive apprentices have been able to remain in their apprenticeship programs and assist their employers with delivering important services to the community,” says ARC CEO Glenn Evans.

“However, there are fears that when the JobKeeper scheme ends as scheduled on September 27, many employers will be forced to let their apprentices go.

“The work of the RAC industry is essential to society. During the COVID-19 pandemic this importance has stood out, with a focus on ensuring the uninterrupted supply and operation of temperature-dependent medical services and food delivery to supermarkets.”

The Ai Group, meanwhile, has proposed a universal Apprentice and Trainee Wage Support Scheme 2.0. This would begin in October and would provide a subsidy that gradually decreases until December 2021.

The NAAA has recommended six measures, including not only financial support, but also more accurate tracking of apprentice numbers, and a national program of post-apprenticeship micro credentials to support the reskilling and upskilling of existing workers.

Featured image courtesy of IFA teched.

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