Apprenticeships and traineeships are central components of the vocational education and training system. They provide the opportunity to train and study toward a nationally recognised qualification, combining on- and off-the-job training to enable individuals to develop their skills while participating in the workforce and earning an income.

Apprenticeships typically take around 4 years to complete, and involve training towards a skilled trade (for example, carpentry, electrical, plumbing or automotive) or non-trade (for example, hospitality or child care).

Traineeships are normally shorter in duration (1 to 2 years) and involve training in a vocational area such as marketing, administration or events management.

Apprenticeships and traineeships can be full time, part time or school based. School-based apprenticeships and traineeships are available for secondary school students who get on-the-job training towards a formal qualification while still completing their school studies (NCVER 2018).  

The impact of COVID-19

The vocational education and training sector has been heavily impacted by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. In an effort to reduce the spread of the virus, initiatives such as international travel restrictions and border control measures, non-essential service shutdown, social distancing and remote and home-based learning have been implemented.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the delivery of teaching and training to apprentices and trainees. Face-to-face classes have been heavily restricted and moved to online methods and for those students undertaking work placements in the health, aged care and early childhood sectors, the impact has been even more profound. Some impacts on employment outcomes for people who completed vocational education and training studies have also been experienced (see Outcomes).

The Australian Government’s COVID-19 Economic Recovery Plan includes measures to support new apprenticeships, including the Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements wage subsidy. Over the period between 5 October 2020 to 31 March 2022, the subsidy provides up to $7,000 per quarter to cover 50% of wages for commencing or recommencing apprentices (DESE 2021).

Other concerns relating to the impact of COVID-19 are related to how the challenges of remote learning may affect the educational outcomes of vulnerable students. The impact of the pandemic, including recent outbreaks in Australia in 2021, is yet to be completely understood. It will likely be a topic for researchers and the education sector itself for some time to come.

 Who are apprentices and trainees?

1 in 9 trade workers are apprentices or trainees

As at 30 June 2020, 1 in 9 (11%) workers in trade occupations were apprentices or trainees and 1 in 45 workers (2.2%) in all occupations were employed as an apprentice or trainee (NCVER 2020a).

As at 30 June 2020, 266,565 apprentices and trainees were training in Australia, down 3.9% from June 2019 (NCVER 2020a).

During 2019–20, there were 133,500 commencements of apprentices and trainees. Of those apprentices and trainees who commenced in 2019–20:

  • 35% were female and 65% were male (the same as in 2016–17)
  • around 1 in 14 (7.1%) were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (up from 6.2% in 2016–17) (see Indigenous education and skills)
  • 48% were training for a trade (up from 44% in 2016–17), and 52% for a non-trade (down from 56% in 2016–17)
  • around 1 in 29 (3.4%) had disability (up from 3.0% in 2016–17)
  • 74% were undertaking full-time study (up from 72% in 2016–17), and 26% were undertaking part-time study (down from 28% in 2016–17)
  • around 1 in 9 (11%) were school-based (the same as in 2016–17) (NCVER 2020b).


The number of people undertaking apprenticeships and traineeships was lower in 2019–20 than in 2007–08 (Figure 1).

The number of commencements and completions began to increase in 2009–10, alongside the Apprentice Kickstart initiative to address skills shortages in Australia, with a peak around 2012 (NCVER 2020c). This was followed by a sharp decline from 2012–13. The decline was steeper for non-trades than trades, and reflected:

  • changes to Australian Government incentive payments for qualifications not on the National Skills Needs List (Atkinson & Stanwick 2016), including the discontinuation of a $1,500 standard employer commencement payment (Gilfillan 2016)
  • a decline in demand for labour in industries such as mining and utilities (Gilfillan 2016).

The decline disproportionately affected women and older apprentices and trainees. Between June 2012 and December 2015, the number of female apprentices and trainees declined by 59%, compared to a decline of 38% for males. Over the same period, the number of apprentices and trainees aged 45 years and over declined by 71%, compared to a decline of 26% and 39% for people aged 20–24 and 19 and under, respectively (Gilfillan 2016).

Trends of apprentice and trainee commencements and completions show that in the 12 months ending 30 June 2020:

  • there were 133,500 commencements, a decline from the peak of 377,000 in 2011–12, and at their lowest since 1996–97
  • completions (84,000) declined sharply since the peak of 214,600 in 2012–13 and were at their lowest since 1998–99
  • the number of cancellations and withdrawals (77,800) were also at their lowest since 1998–99 (NCVER 2020c).

The line graph shows the total number of apprentices and trainees increased between 2008 (433,830) and 2012 (514,994) and then continued to decline until 2020 (266,564). Commencements increased between 2008 (289,129) and 2012 (376,896) then declined until 2020 (133,503). Completions increased from 2008 (148,531) to 2013 (214,558), then continued to decline until 2020 (83,966). Cancellations/withdrawals increased between 2008 (133,107) and 2012 (146,546), then continued to decline until 2020 (77,835).


In 2019–20, of people commencing apprenticeships or traineeships:

  • almost half (48%) were aged under 19
  • 1 in 4 (25%) were aged 25–44
  • around 1 in 5 (21%) were aged 20–24 (21%) (NCVER 2020c).

Between 2007–08 and 2019–20, the number of people commencing  apprenticeships and traineeships reduced across all age groups (Figure 2) (NCVER 2020c). Between 2007–08 and 2019–20:

  • there was a 47% decrease in the number of people aged under 19 who commenced an apprenticeship or traineeship (119,500 compared with 63,600).
  • the number of 25–44-year-olds commencing an apprenticeship dropped by more than two-thirds (68%) for females (35,300 compared with 11,100) and more than half (55%) for males (49,600 compared with 22,300) (NCVER 2020c).

The vertical bar chart shows the age profiles of apprentices and trainees varied between 2008 and 2020. The proportion in the 19 years and under age group remained increased (2008: 41.3%, 2020: 47.6%), the 20–24 years’ age group increased (2008: 17.1%, 2020: 20.9%), the 25–44 years’ age group decreased (2008: 29.4%, 2020: 25.0%), and the 45 years and over age group decreased (2008: 12.2%, 2020: 6.4%).


More than half (57%) of apprentices and trainees who started training in 2015 completed their apprenticeship or traineeship requirements (NCVER 2020d). Completions were slightly higher (58%) for those in a non-trade occupation compared with those in a trade occupation (56%).

Based on data from the National Student Outcomes Survey, of people who completed an apprenticeship or traineeship in 2019, 56% reported better employment after training. This was 10 percentage points less than for those who completed a qualification in 2018 (66%) (NCVER 2020e).

The COVID-19 pandemic also impacted the outcomes of those who had completed their VET studies in 2019. Of qualification completers who were employed after training

  • about 1 in 3 (35%) reported having their hours reduced
  • 7.1% reported being temporarily stood down

Of those who were not employed at the end of May 2020, 21% reported they had lost their job due to the pandemic (NCVER 2020f) (also see Employment and unemployment).

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on apprenticeships and traineeships, see:


Atkinson G & Stanwick J 2016. Trends in VET: Policy and participation. Adelaide: NCVER.

DESE (Department of Education, Skills and Employment) 2021. Boosting Apprenticeships Commencements Fact Sheet. Canberra: Department of Education and Training. Viewed 11 August 2021.

Gilfillan G 2016. Trends in apprenticeships and traineeships. Canberra: Parliamentary Library. Viewed 11 June 2021.

NCVER (National Centre for Vocational Education Research) 2018. Apprentices and trainees: terms and definitions. Adelaide: NCVER.

NCVER 2020a. Apprentices and trainees 2020: June quarter—Australia. Adelaide: NCVER. Viewed 10 June 2021.

NCVER 2020b. Apprentices and trainees 2020 statistics: DataBuilder: apprentices and trainees, September 2020. Adelaide: NCVER. Viewed 11 June 2021.

NCVER 2020c. Historical time series of apprenticeships and traineeships in Australia, from 1963 to 2020. Adelaide: NCVER. Viewed 10 June 2021.

NCVER 2020d. Completion and attrition rates for apprentices and trainees 2019. Adelaide: NCVER. Viewed 10 June 2021.

NCVER 2020e. VET student outcomes 2020: Media release. Adelaide: NCVER.  Viewed 10 June 2021.

NCVER 2020f. VET student outcomes 2020. Adelaide: NCVER. Viewed 10 June 2021.