With support from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, earlier this year I undertook a traveling fellowship to Australia looking at what we could learn about how they prepare young people for the world of work. Historically the Australian system of education and vocational training was modelled on that in the UK but, whilst we had a significant dip in Apprenticeship numbers during the 80s and 90s, their buoyant economy has seen considerable growth and innovation.

Here are seven lessons we could learn from our Australian counterparts:

1. We  should make employer’s needs more central to the vocational training and Apprenticeship system. In Australia although some money still goes to the training provider, most of the financial support for Apprentices is aimed at employers. As recommended in the Richard Review, the bulk of skills funding in the UK should go to employers, so that they can then invest in the training provider of their choice.

2. We  should use other financial incentives sparing and to encourage the employment of disadvantaged groups, including 16/17 year olds, young people with disabilities and, in some professions, young people of underrepresented gender/ethnicity. In Australia there is a complicated system of financial support, which at first sight appears very attractive (http://www.australianapprenticeships.gov.au/).  However, over time they have come to be seen as entitlements and a review by Deloitte seemed to show that they had very little incentivising power.

3. We should develop the system of group training organisations, so that in industries where there is a high turnover of employees, e.g. construction,  Apprentices can be passed between host companies more easily.  In Australia, about 10% of Apprentices are now employed through a group training organisation (http://www.grouptraining.com.au/).  They provide a particularly attractive option for employers who find it difficult to add additional permanent employees to their headcount or who simply want more support.

4. Progression planning should begin much earlier, with the first conversations about the world of work starting in primary school and occurring regularly thereafter. By the time young people enter Key Stage 4, they should have clear post-16 pathways mapped out and be clear how to get there. In Australia they ensure this by establishing links between schools and businesses, so that young people and teachers have access to industry knowledge. In the UK, all young people, and particularly those who come from workless families, need to have access to engagement opportunities with employees, work skills training and workplace experiences.

5. We should provide more support for young people to stay in school and improve their behaviour and attendance. In Australia I saw the work of the Beacon Foundation (http://beaconfoundation.com.au/), which aims to help young people make informed, high aspiration decisions about their future pathways. High quality pastoral support from a school-based tutor/mentor, backed up by life skills development and access to a network of specialist support, is the best way of ensuring all young people leave with the best possible achievements.

6. We should explore the options for School/College-Based Apprenticeships, perhaps within a ‘TechBacc’ framework, so that young people are able to start high quality work-related learning earlier. Although the UK’s Young Apprenticeship programme was stopped following the recommendations of the Wolf Review, in some Australian states it has provided a high quality alternative route to employment. It may also enable young people to tap into the growing part-time job market and, if paid, offset recent reductions in financial support for 16-19 year olds.

7. The proposed new system of Traineeships should provide high quality pre-Apprenticeship training for young people who are not yet work-ready.    The current foundation learning offer should be enriched to be more like the  Australian approach, which includes qualifications more directly leading into Apprenticeship opportunities and some real, paid work experience.

Kevin Munday is the ThinkForward Programme Development Manager at Private Equity Foundation.

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