Raggatt, M. (2015) Government slammed for dumping Energise Oz electrician apprenticeship program Brisbane Times, October 10
Those of you with Netflix may have been watching the wonderfully funny Australian series, Dreamland (called ‘Utopia’ in Australia), about a (fictitious) Australian federal government agency, the National Building Authority, that never gets any of its infrastructure projects actually started (never mind completed). Sometimes reality though is even more absurd than fiction.
In a move heavily criticised by Australia’s Electrical Trades Union, the Australian Federal government has recently shut down a two year e-learning apprenticeship program which had doubled the completion rate to 93%. Instead, the Australian government has introduced a new program that reverts to the previous model by removing the online component and now requiring apprentices to use a printed textbook. It has also substantially reduced the online mentoring role of the previous program.
Ms Daley-Boorn, one of the students enrolled in the new program, commented:
We all agree on the same things – the online training with Energise Oz made it easy for us….now going to paper-based, it’s not more work, just a different style of learning and doesn’t suit what we do in schools now. People are not going to sit down and read a textbook, that’s just not how apprentices learn.
It’s not just Australia though that goes backward with e-learning for apprenticeship training. The Industry Training Authority of British Columbia (a Crown agency funded by the provincial government) commissioned a strategy in 2008 for the expansion of flexible learning in the trades in BC, which secured both ‘hard’ provincial and ‘soft’ Federal funding commitments amounting to over $13 million.
However, after the ITA Board accepted the recommendations in the report, the project was cancelled, and the provincial funding was diverted by the ITA to ‘other projects’ – despite the fact that completion rates for traditional, campus-based apprenticeship programs were a miserable 42%. It was left to BC’s two year community colleges to fund blended learning apprenticeship programs themselves – which some, such as Vancouver Community College and Camosun College in Victoria, have done quite successfully. Nevertheless they are small pickings compared with the province-wide program recommended to the ITA.
These are the harsh realities of online learning, which still suffers from prejudice and ignorance from both government and employers alike.
The Australian government’s approach to trades’ training is causing social problems that have consequences far beyond the question of online learning or textbooks. Many students coming out of high school are unable to find work and fall into unhealthy lifestyles due to a lack of opportunity. As a Canadian living in one of Australia’s industrial centres, I am constantly surprised at the lack of opportunity for young people coming out of grade 12 and at their willingness to accept any work whether it challenges their abilities or not, just because it is a job.
The government’s decision typifies a lack of awareness of the larger picture of how education supports society. Government and employers are refusing to acknowledge the new reality for their constituents and potential employees and need to recognize that low completion rates in apprenticeship programs are equivalent to students voting with their feet. If governments are truly interested in investing in their country’s future, they would be well advised to become aware of how students learn in the 21st century.