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NSW report looks at ways to keep First Nations people in apprenticeships

Brendan Foster -

More than 60 per cent of First Nations people in NSW leave their apprenticeship because of work-related issues, a new report has found.

The not-for-profit apprenticeship, employment and training services provider, VERTO, teamed up with the Social Research Centre and The Nahri Institute to examine the obstacles First Nations people continue to face when it comes to undertaking and completing apprentices.

The report - Research into apprenticeship completion barriers for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – also looked at how the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector can evolve to overcome these barriers.

Key findings from the report include:

· Less than half (47 per cent) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged 25 to 34 had completed non-school qualifications of Certificate III or above, with apprenticeships providing an invaluable education pathway alternative.

· Apprentice and trainee commencements among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals aged 15-64 were significantly higher on a per capita basis than the overall rate for NSW, equating to 27 per 1,000 people compared to 12 per 1,000 people across the state.

· Compared to data from 2017-21, there was a relatively low completion rate of apprenticeships by Indigenous peoples across NSW in 2021-22, with a 23 per cent increase in completion compared to 32 per cent for non-Indigenous people.

· Between 2018 and 2022, the rate of cancellations and withdrawals from apprenticeships among Indigenous apprentices and trainees in NSW more than doubled the state average. In 2022, Indigenous apprentices and trainees aged 15-64 experienced 2,975 cancellations (16 per 1,000 people), compared to the state's total of 37,415 cancellations (7.1 per 1,000 people).

· 63 per cent of Indigenous peoples left their apprenticeship due to employment-related reasons.

The report found the working conditions experienced by apprentices, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, were cited as the main factor contributing to non-completion of apprenticeships over the years.

One of the main factors for the incompletion of the course was the relationship between employees and employers.

The research stated that around two in five apprentices did not think their workplace was a good place to work, and a similar proportion was not happy with their boss.

Personality issues between employers and colleagues, 'management style and practice', as well as bullying were also highlighted as reasons for leaving apprenticeships.

The study recommended several practical steps to improve First Nations apprenticeship outcomes including improved workplace experiences; adjusted apprenticeship structures and support; better understanding of qualifications; and more access in regional and remote areas

VETRO chief executive officer Ron Maxwell said while there had been an increase in the number of Indigenous peoples taking up apprenticeships over the last five years, the research found it did not correlate to an increase in completion rates.

"Repetitive recommendations outlined in literature over the past 20 years suggest that few policies or programs have been established to bring substantive change," he said.

"This report seeks to outline evidence gaps and highlight the barriers that these communities continue to face and how they can be addressed by the broader VET sector."

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