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Data & Behavioural Insights

The hidden ingredient turning apprenticeship starters into finishers

Recent data on apprentice and trainee activity has been heartening for many in VET. With past years characterised by flat or falling commencements and dire completion rates for those who do get a start, there’s been a strong appetite for a renaissance in fortunes for this channel into work.


That finally came in the form of a huge statistical jump. Apprentice and trainee commencements for the December quarter 2020 increased by 141.5% compared with December quarter 2019. The total numbers in training by the end of 2020 was captured as 297 920, 13.9% up on the end of 2019.


Falling in love with VET again?


The National Centre for Vocational Education and Training (NCVER) observed the surge was not because of some sudden falling-in-love-again moment Australia had with apprenticeships.


Rather, it was the direct result of policy. The Federal Government’s Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements wage subsidy offered to pay 50% of the wages of any new or recommencing apprentice or trainee for 12 months from the date commencement (up to $7000 per quarter).


Inked in the heat of the pandemic, it appears this policy has had the desired effect; is has boosted the number of new apprentices and trainees in the system, providing jobs and incomes for young Australians when they needed them as well as an economic and skills boost into the future.


This is a welcome news for the sector. But can we make these apprentices last?


The hidden ingredient in completion


While channelling more candidates into apprenticeships and traineeships has many benefits, the reality is that, if we’re unable to keep them engaged and learning right through to completion, this uptick in numbers may be accompanied by a similar spike in non-completions down the road.


We need to ensure we are looking at the one factor shown to trump all others in completion.


Psychological readiness.


Behavioural scientists have determined that, more than any other factor (including English ability, level of education, whether they can drive, and many others) attitude turns out to be the strongest influencer on the potential success of candidates. “Attitude, or psychological readiness, has been established as the single greatest moderator of someone’s likelihood of achieving an employment or education outcome,” says ReadyTech General Manager of Esher House, Adrian King.


That’s because attitude or psychological readiness both propels candidates to more effective learning – they are more curious, take more information in mor easily and form new skills – as well as helps them quickly bounce back then they hit unexpected roadblocks, like failing an assessment.


This is particularly relevant to apprenticeships, where it’s been found  one of the main difficulties learners will face is their working conditions and their relationship with their employer. They will need psychological resources to meet these challenges, make good decisions and pull through.


A systematic approach to supporting attitude


The likelihood of apprentices completing took a huge step forward in 2020.


With the start of a new Australian Apprenticeship Support Network (AASN) contract, AASN providers, who are contracted by the Australian Government to support apprentices from pre-commencement to completion, began using a new tools from ReadyTech’s Esher House arm that put behavioural science and predictive analytics front-and centre in managing new apprentices.


For the first time, a combination of extrinsic market data and an apprentice’s intrinsic motivation (assessed before beginning an apprenticeship) were used across 75,000 apprentices a year to provide targeted interventions and tailored support levels to reduce the risk of dropping out. Progressive changes in completion likelihood were also measured periodically.


Commenting at the time, Ben Bardon, CEO of the National Australian Apprenticeship Association (NAAA), said all NAAA AASN members had adopted ReadyTech’s behavioural science technology. “The use of cutting-edge technology and analytics demonstrates the commitment of Apprenticeship Network Providers to innovation and continuously improving their services,” Bardon said.


Mastering the mental game


This great leap forward in our efforts to understand individual apprentices as they enter training will have an important affect for new cohorts – including the surge that has taken place through the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Now a part of the fabric of our apprentice and trainee landscape, this systematic attention to attitude and psychological readiness can be expected to reap benefits for the many businesses involved in apprenticeships as well as the wellbeing of individuals in the system.


While we have seen an uptick in new entrants to the system due to Government policy, there is no reason why we need to see a corresponding exodus in the years to come. With the right technology and tools in place to know more about the important factors influencing our next generations of skilled workers, we are in a position to help them master the mental game, deploy resilience when and where it is needed, and make their three to four years of learning a positive start to the future.