The Boosting Apprenticeships Commencement (BAC) scheme has headed off what was shaping up to be a significant slump in new commencements in 2020, resulting instead in the highest number of sign-ups of new apprentices and trainees in the region in seven years.
The Business NSW Skilling Australia for a better future report released in July last year predicted a drop of more than 54,000 new apprentice and trainee commencements nationally in 2020, including 2,000 in the Hunter and Central Coast, as the impact of COVID saw sign-ups plummet.
However, figures sourced this week from Training Services NSW show that the downward trend has been reversed, with 5,419 apprentice and trainee commencements in the Hunter and Central Coast so far this financial year (July 2020 - March 2021), representing a 27 per cent increase on the 4,281 new placements for the corresponding period the previous year.
Welcoming this week’s announcement that the BAC scheme will be extended, Hunter Business Chamber CEO Bob Hawes said the increase in new placements was a very welcome outcome in a region that has battled high youth unemployment levels throughout the COVID period.
“Along with Business NSW, we advocated strongly last year for wage subsidies for new apprentices and trainees, and these figures show that the BAC scheme has done its job, ensuring more jobs for young people and supporting the region’s skills pipeline,” Mr Hawes said.
“We welcome the extension of the BAC, which will allow employers to receive a 12-month subsidy for new apprentices and trainees put on between October 2020 and September 2021.”
The 5,419 new apprentice and trainee commencements between July 2020 and March 2021 represents the highest rate of new placements in the Hunter and Central Coast region since 2013-14.
Jeff Cooke, Regional Manager Hunter and North Coast for Apprenticeship Support Australia, said the number of new placements was likely to be even higher than the official figures suggested, given that every apprenticeship provider had a backlog of sign-ups to process due to the popularity of the scheme.
“The demand has really been across all sectors,” Mr Cooke said.
“Initially the take-up was highest among retail and hospitality businesses, but we’ve also seen a very strong response in the trades.
“A lot of employers took the opportunity to move casuals into permanent apprenticeships and trainee roles, which provided welcome stability for those employees in the midst of the crisis.”
Mr Hawes said the Supporting Training and Apprenticeships (SAT) scheme, which provides employers with wage subsidy support for apprentices and trainees who were engaged prior to July 2020, had also played an important role in keeping apprentices and trainees in work.
However, that scheme is due to end at the end of March, along with JobKeeper.
“We hope that many of the businesses that have relied on this scheme are now in a position to transition away from it without significant impact to their business,” Mr Hawes said.
“But we will be keeping a watching brief to ensure that the end of the scheme does not result in a wave of apprentices and trainees being laid off, which would undo some of the good work done to date.
“We need to maintain a strong focus on bringing youth unemployment in the Hunter region down.”