What is an Apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship is a legal agreement whereby the apprentice or trainee learns how to perform the tasks involved in a skilled occupation under the guidance of one or more highly skilled tradespeople or workers and by successfully completing the required training to become qualified. Apprentices receive a wage in accordance with their level of training and experience.


Many people associate apprenticeships with the trades. A trade refers to a highly skilled practical occupation. Carpenter, hairdresser, florist, butcher, motor mechanic, glazier, and signwriter are examples of trade jobs. Typically it takes approximately four years to qualify for a trade.

In recent times, traineeships have adopted the apprenticeship model. Traineeships are skilled non-trade occupations in career fields such as business and administration, retail, hospitality and sport and recreation. The skill level and duration of traineeships are usually lower than for trade occupations.

More specifically, in its overview of the Australian apprenticeship and traineeship system, the National Council of Vocational Educational Research (NCVER) stated that contemporary Australian apprenticeships and traineeships can be defined by:

  • the existence of a regulated, employment-based training arrangement, and a registered legal training agreement (originally called an ‘indenture’, and more recently a ‘contract of training’)
  • a commitment by the employer, the employee and a registered training organisation (RTO) to an agreed training program in a specified occupation, all of which are set out in the agreement
  • an occupational training program that consists of a concurrent combination of paid employment and on-the-job training; and formal (usually off-the-job) training that leads to a recognised qualification training that is provided at an agreed level in the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) and to standards set down in the Australian Quality Training Framework (AQTF) (NCVER, 2011, p. 9).

Who Can Get An Apprenticeship?

Over the years Australian apprenticeships have become very flexible. In the past Australian apprenticeships could only be commenced after finishing compulsory secondary education and mostly school leavers were employed as apprentices. Today Australian apprenticeships can be commenced:

  • After the completion of compulsory secondary education or after Year 11 or Year 12. Employers vary in their preferences regarding preferred level of school education for first year apprentices. A small number of employers will put on apprentices with a Year 10 education. However, many employers prefer their first year apprentices to have a Year 12 or at least Year 11 education.
  • At school
    • Some employers are willing to offer school-based apprenticeships. School-based apprenticeships involve the student doing paid work with the employer and working towards a nationally accredited qualification as well as completing Year 10, 11 or 12 studies at school. To make this happen, the student typically attends work instead of school for one or two days a week. Additional work hours may be required on school holidays or weekends. It is up to the student to catch up on missed school work.
    • Many students who have a part-time job after school, on weekends and in school holidays may be offered a school-based apprenticeship by their employer, leading to a qualification such as Certificate II in Retail. All paid work and training for these school-based apprenticeships is done outside of school hours.
  • When you are an adult. The wage for a beginning apprentice is low and adults with family and other commitments may have difficulty surviving on this income. Currently, there are Government initiatives to support people over 25 years of age who wish to commence an apprenticeship.

Apprenticeship Websites

There are some outstanding websites that can answer most of your questions about apprenticeships. Some of these are:

Australian Apprenticeship Pathways is intended for several user groups. The student section contains job and training descriptions for Apprenticeships and Traineeships and information about Australian School-based Apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships. The Work Type links Apprenticeships and traineeships to career interest strengths and work type preferences. Jobs pathway charts show the range of qualifications and related training available in each industry.

Australian Apprenticeships

Apprenticeship Support Australia . Link to this site to get information on apprenticeships, school-based apprenticeships, qualifications available in different states and territories, the opportunity to connect with a Career Counsellor about an apprenticeship, support to find out what type of an apprenticeship will suit you, tips on apprenticeship wages, information about mentoring through your apprenticeship and more.