Advancing Apprentices Fact Sheet

Generations of Australians have found their way into good jobs by doing an apprenticeship. Becoming an apprentice gets people working while they train – giving them both a livelihood and valuable skills. At the same time, apprenticeships build up the skilled workforce Australia will need to continue growing and innovating as a country.

Too few Australians are now doing an apprenticeship – there are 120,000 fewer apprentices today than when the Liberals came to Government. [1] Labor has a plan to turn this around by getting more apprentices onto federally-funded major projects.

We will also help would-be apprentices connect with available work and training opportunities more easily with an Apprenticeships Connect portal, and give them a voice in the vocational education and training sector through the creation of a dedicated Apprentice Advocate.

What’s the problem?

In 2015 the number of Australians in training for an apprenticeship reached its lowest level since 2001. [2] Trade commencements plummeted almost 20 per cent between September 2014 and September 2015 alone. [3] What’s more, only about half of those Australians who start an apprenticeship currently end up completing it. [4]

For generations, apprenticeships have provided young Australians with a pathway from school into good quality jobs. Apprenticeships also offer valuable opportunities for retrenched workers or those in downsizing industries to reskill and retrain.

“Apprenticeships are the backbone in the formation of highly valued and adaptable skilled tradespeople Australia needs for its future.”
Australian Industry Group [5]

The skills and training on offer through Australian apprenticeships are the envy of the world. Those who complete an Australian apprenticeship leave with the skills to drive innovation and help solve problems on the shop floor, making Australian businesses more productive.

There are some sectors of the Australian economy that are crying out for more skilled workers – including construction, automotive and electrical trades. There are also growing industries where many more well-trained and highly skilled workers will be needed in the future, such as the health, aged care and disability sectors.

Advancing apprenticeships will be crucial to meeting Australia’s skills needs today and into the future. But since its election in 2013, the Abbott-Turnbull Government has cut $2.5 billion from the skills portfolio, including $1 billion from apprentice programs alone.

Labor won’t stand by while apprenticeships disappear and Australians lose the chance to train or retrain for a good job.   

We will increase the number of apprenticeship opportunities available so that more Australians can benefit from good jobs and training, and more businesses can access the skilled workers they need to grow and innovate.

Our plan

A Shorten Labor Government will lead by example in creating more opportunities for apprentices. We will work with industry, the States and Territories to establish a framework requiring a proportion of the jobs on major federally funded projects to be delivered as apprenticeships.

This requirement will apply for federally funded infrastructure, construction and defence projects with capital expenditure valued at over $10 million, and will apply throughout the supply chain. This is the same threshold that will apply for public projects to put in place an Australian Industry Participation Plan under Labor’s Plan for Australian Metals Manufacturing and Jobs.

In Government, we will work with industry and the States and Territories to identify the right benchmark for places to ensure apprenticeships are part of every major Commonwealth project.

For example, the South Australian Government requires that 15 per cent of the total labour hours on government-funded building and civil construction projects worth over $150,000 be completed by apprentices and trainees, as well as other target groups like Indigenous Australians. [6]  

Upcoming Commonwealth projects that will create new opportunities for apprentices include the Badgerys Creek Airport in Western Sydney, Labor’s 10 priority road and rail projects to be delivered through our Concrete Bank, and major defence works in South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

Infrastructure Partnerships Australia has estimated our $10 billion investment in priority infrastructure will directly create 26,000 jobs. We will set an initial target of seeing 2,600 of these jobs – one in 10 – filled by Australian apprentices.

This will ensure that together, federal agencies and the companies that win big contracts through them make a contribution to training Australian tradies for the workforces and projects of the future. 

Another challenge for Australians looking to do an apprenticeship is navigating through the range of training options available to them and connecting these to jobs that are available when they’re ready to start. To help with this, Labor will establish a placements portal linked to the Australian Apprenticeships website to help streamline the search and application process for prospective apprentices.

Apprenticeships Connect portal

Similar to the UK Government’s Find an Apprenticeship service, the portal will let those considering an apprenticeship search for training and job opportunities near them and connect with the Apprentice Support Network Providers who can help them through the process of signing up.

Apprentice Support Network Providers will feed in up-to-the-minute advice about job opportunities on their books and the training and qualifications that pair with this. Australians considering an apprenticeship will also be able to search by industry or qualification to identify apprenticeship opportunities in their field of interest.

The portal will not replace the services provided by the well-established Apprenticeship Support Network. Rather, it will help Australians see what their work and training options are upfront and connect with the right providers who can help them pursue these.

Apprentices occupy a unique place in Australia’s training system. For this reason, they need a dedicated advocate who can monitor this part of the vocational education and training (VET) sector and ensure the opportunities and outcomes for Australian apprentices continue to improve over time.

National Apprentice Advocate

Labor has already committed to appointing a National Training Ombudsman to help protect students across the VET sector and get to the bottom of the rorts and rip-offs we’ve seen in recent years. We will also ensure that apprentices are supported with a dedicated defender of the apprenticeship system – the National Apprentice Advocate.

In Government, Labor formed the Apprenticeships of the 21st Century Expert Panel to drive apprenticeship reforms. One of the panel’s key recommendations was the “appointment of a custodian of the apprenticeship system to oversee reform that will ensure Australia has a high quality Australian Apprenticeships system.” [7]

The Apprentice Advocate will be located within the office of the VET Ombudsman and work with their office on apprentice-specific issues such as course content and quality of training. The Apprentice Advocate will work to ensure apprentices gain quality skills that are portable in our changing economy. The role will also focus on apprentice retention and completion and provide advice to government in this area, as well as taking on a broader advocacy role promoting quality apprentice training.

Our plan to create more apprenticeship opportunities, better connect potential apprentices with work and training, and ensure they gain high quality skills will stop the rapid fall in Australians taking up a trade. We will help more people into good jobs through apprenticeships, while ensuring Australia’s future workforce is a high skilled, well trained and innovative one.

Labor’s record

Labor has always backed Australian apprentices. In Government, we put in place a range of programs to help apprentices start and complete their training including:

  • Tools for Your Trade Program.
  • Australian Apprenticeships Access Program.
  • Accelerated Australian Apprenticeships Program.
  • Australian Apprenticeships Mentoring Program.
  • Alternative Pathways Program.
  • Apprenticeship to Business Owner Program.

We understand that quality trades training requires a well-run VET sector with public TAFE at its centre. That’s why we have announced that a Shorten Labor Government will back TAFE into the future by developing a comprehensive National Priority Plan. This plan will define the unique role of TAFE as our public provider and deliver on this by working with the States and Territories to provide ongoing guaranteed TAFE funding.

We have also announced that we will undertake a comprehensive review of the entire VET sector to ensure it is properly equipped to train young Australians and retrain adult workers for the jobs of the future.

The VET sector deserves a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to policy-making to ensure it is fit for the critical task of preparing Australians for a rapidly changing economy. Getting skills and training right will be central to our future economic success as a nation; Labor will put in the work to make sure we do.

The Liberal alternative

Before the last election, the Liberals promised they would provide better support for Australia’s apprentices. Instead, they have cut almost $1 billion in funding for apprenticeship programs.  

The Liberals have treated the skills portfolio as little more than a piggy bank, making cuts to programs at every Budget and mid-year economic statement since they were elected in 2013.

The Liberals never talk about helping apprentices get good jobs or gain the skills they’ll need in the future – it is completely foreign territory for them.

And the Liberals never talk about TAFE unless it is to run down this vital public institution and talk up the kind of privatisation that has led to rorts and rip-offs across the sector.

Only Labor really believes all Australians deserve quality training that carries them through to a good job and a secure future.  

Financial implications

Labor’s plan has been costed by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office. The Apprenticeship Connect Portal and appointment of a National Apprentice Advocate will cost $4 million over the forward estimates.






Total [8]

Apprentices on federally-funded projects






Apprenticeship Connect Portal






National Apprentice Advocate









[1] National Centre for Vocational Education Research, 2015, Apprentices and trainees 2015 September quarter: state and territory data tables

[2] National Centre for Vocational Education Research, 2015, Historical time series of apprenticeships and traineeships in Australia

[3] National Centre for Vocational Education Research, 2016, Apprentices and trainees - September 2015

[4] National Centre for Vocational Education Research, 2014, Understanding the non-completion of apprentices

[5] Australian Industry Group, 2016, Making apprenticeships work

[6] Government of South Australia, 2010, Workforce participation in Government construction procurement policy

[7] Expert Panel on Apprenticeships, 2011, A shared responsibility: apprenticeships for the 21st century

[8] Totals may not sum due to rounding