Australia moves backwards from online apprenticeship training

October 12, 2015 Tony Bates

Image: © BBC, 2014

Image: © BBC, 2014

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.

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