The number of people undertaking apprenticeships in Australia has gone through a long-term decline, driven in part by the privatisation of government utilities, a national study has found.
There was a 16 per cent decline in apprentice training rates in the 10 years to 2003 compared with the period from 1974 to 1992, according to University of Western Sydney researcher Phillip Toner.
He said the biggest declines in training rates over the past decade have been in metals (down 19 per cent) and electrical trades (down 24 per cent).
Despite the grim long-term statistics, Dr Toner does not believe there is a systemic problem with apprenticeships.
He said the long-term decline reflected structural changes affecting industries that employed metal, electrical and, to a lesser extent, construction apprentices.
These changes include the corporatisation and privatisation of government utilities, which traditionally had been big employers of apprentices; the growth of ‘lean production’ systems; and expanded use of outsourcing.
WA has shared in all of these trends, with the break-up of the former State Electricity Commission, the privatisation of Alinta, the closure of the Midland railway workshops and the outsourcing of services by the Water Corporation, to name just a few examples.
The number of people moving into apprenticeships in WA was relatively static during the 1990s but has kicked up over the past two years to 5,363 in 2003.
In contrast, there has been rapid growth in traineeships, which mainly target areas such as hospitality and other parts that make up the ‘services’ economy.
The number of people entering traineeships was 11,369 last year.
The largest employers of apprentices are now group training schemes such as the Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Apprenticeships WA.
It has 650 apprentices and trainees, supplying them to host employers such as Rio Tinto’s Hamersley Iron, BHP Billiton and Woodside.