The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) pointed to figures from the National Centre for Vocational Education and Research, which showed a 4.7 per cent slide in the number of apprentices as at 30 June 2017.
The figure of 268,600 is close to half the 465,000 apprentices recorded just five years ago.
“The numbers are continuing to fall, unchecked by any recent action,” said Jenny Lambert, the ACCI’s director of employment, education and training.
“This is concerning, particularly for young people seeking that all-important first job. The system is in crisis.
“The $1.5 billion Skilling Australians Fund, announced in the 2017 federal budget, was directly targeted at addressing this crisis. However, seven months after the fund was announced, the government is yet to sign even one agreement with a state or territory government to commence the projects that are desperately needed to boost apprenticeship numbers.”
New apprenticeship commencements fell 2.9 per cent last financial year, with the fall heavily concentrated in the trades sector, where commencements plunged by 6.3 per cent. By comparison, non-trades edged down just 0.1 per cent for the year.
Apprentices were most likely to have completed their training as sales workers, where completions rose by 14 per cent. That compared with a major fall of 24.2 per cent for completions in clerical and administrative workers, while automotive and engineering trades workers were down by 13.6 per cent.
Ms Lambert urged governments of all levels to commit to a national campaign to urgently arrest this decline.
“Action is needed now before job seekers and employers become so disconnected from the system that we can’t get them back,” she said.