Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Apprenticeships in Homelessness: A Quantitative Study

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Apprenticeships in Homelessness: A Quantitative Study

Article excerpt


The slowing of the Australian economy over the last half decade has momentarily refocused public attention on the risk of unemployment and, if arguably less so, the economic and social plight of young people. In early 2014, unemployment among 15 to 24 year olds sits around twice the national average, whilst that of 15 to 19 years olds remains close to three times the national rate (ABS 2014; ACCI 2010).

While the causes of youth unemployment are complex and varied, those first to lose their jobs, or those encountering barriers to labour market entry, are often those least well educated or trained. Youth training and training policy in Australia have remained fraught with problems and are critiqued for failing to meet societal and economic need and skill demands (McDowell et al. 2011). Apprenticeship training has repeatedly been in the spotlight, in particular because of the continued high dropout rate among apprentices and trainees (McDowell et al. 2011; Karmel & Mlotkowski 2010a; 2010b), and the harsh economic reality of having to meet living and training expenses on an apprenticeship or traineeship award (Bittman et al. 2007; Schutz et al. 2013).

This paper explores a very specific social and personal crisis faced by a small but far from negligible fraction of trainees and apprentices: the risk of homelessness. Using data from a survey of trainees and apprentices in South Australia, we estimate the scale of the risk of homelessness for this group of young people. Homelessness among apprentices and trainees remains a largely unreported and unrecognised social phenomenon, despite its potentially adverse effects on a person's ability to continue their training. Community housing projects such as 'The house that builds people' project in Canberra, (1) recognise the social need for improving the housing situation of apprentices in a hands-on manner. In this paper, we seek to make the empirical case for paying greater attention to the housing situation of those undertaking apprenticeships and traineeships.

In the following sections, we first summarise some of the literature on youth training in Australia, its successes and challenges, and we discuss the crossover with the literature on housing instability and homelessness among young people. We then move on to introduce the specific aims and objectives of our study, before presenting our approach and the survey data generated, and discussing its strengths and weaknesses. The next section presents our survey results. The final section of this paper draws together the evidence and presents recommendations for improved housing and youth training policy and practice.

Background and literature

Who are the apprentices?

In recent years, Australia's apprentices have become an increasingly diverse group of learners, most notably with respect to their age characteristics. As recently as 1995, three in four apprenticeships and traineeships were taken up by young adults below the age of 20; by 2009, this had decreased to fewer than two in five (NCVER 2011a: Table 3, own calculation). In the September quarter 2011, 14 per cent of current apprentices and trainees were aged 45 and over, as were 13 per cent of new apprentices and trainees (NCVER 2011b, own calculations). Just over half of all current apprentices and trainees were younger than 25 years of age (NCVER 2011b).

Not everyone who starts a traineeship or apprenticeship also completes his or her training. In fact, high course drop-out (around 48 per cent; see McDowell et al. 2011) has been a major issue for youth training in Australia for some time, posing cost burdens on training systems, as well as reducing prospects for sustained employment for those dropping out. Low apprenticeship awards have been found to be a factor contributing to course drop-out from training (Karmel & Mlotkowski 2010a; Bittman et al. 2007), alongside workplace-related causes (poor relationship with the employer/trainer), and lack of support and loss of interest in the work (McDowell et al. …

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