Global Connections: The Australian apprenticeship model

By Wayne Wheeler

Australia’s group apprenticeship model gives apprentices hands-on learning in multiple business settings.

In the U.S., apprenticeships are widely seen as a viable solution to such highly publicized challenges as the country’s skills shortage and the student debt crisis. They have the potential to provide a broad selection of earn-while-you-learn opportunities, and, upon program completion, apprentices are debt-free and work-ready.

So it is no surprise that President Trump’s executive order to expand U.S. apprenticeships has received a tremendous amount of support and a great deal of excitement. This fall, the new President’s Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion — which includes Walter Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), and other experts from the public and private sectors — started to convene “to identify strategies and proposals to promote apprenticeships, especially in sectors where apprenticeship programs are insufficient.”

Why it’s important

The global competitiveness of U.S. apprentices and their acquisition of global competence is necessary if the U.S. is to successfully compete in an increasingly global marketplace. Accordingly, the U.S. government has also looked abroad for expertise, at innovative and promising apprenticeship models in other countries. Some of America’s strongest allies and trade partners, such as Germany and Switzerland, have used the opportunity to highlight their own models as well as to spotlight companies from their countries that participate in successful apprenticeship programs in the U.S.

The international mobility of apprentices has also been intently discussed and planned. Notably, AACC has 10 memorandums of understanding (MOUs) around the world, in which the association have observed various models of apprenticeship that have gained some level of acceptance in the U.S.

The group model

During an AACC visit to Australia in September for the TAFE Director Australia (TDA) annual conference (TDA is AACC’s MOU partner in Australia), staff were introduced to a possibly new model of apprenticeship — the group apprenticeship model. Similar to the employer consortium model, in which multiple employers collaborate to increase the size of apprenticeship cohorts in order to attract a community college partner, the group apprenticeship model differs in that apprentices are “hired” by a third-party entity which partners with one or more employers for on-the-job training of apprentices and one or more academic institutions for their classroom instruction.

The benefit of the group apprenticeship model to employers is that, in addition to creating sizeable apprenticeship cohorts, it allows participation of smaller businesses unable to pay for full-time apprenticeships or that are only able to commit to seasonal apprenticeships. Meanwhile, apprentices are guaranteed uninterrupted salaries and opportunities to gain experiences in multiple business settings, from large-scale corporations to small entrepreneurial businesses.

In a follow-up meeting this month, officials from the Embassy of Australia visited AACC in Washington, D.C., to further discuss the Australian model for apprenticeships. AACC will continue to explore the group apprenticeship model, as well as other unique and promising models from around the world.

This article originally appeared in


Wayne Wheeler

is director of international programs and services at the American Association of Community Colleges.