The Australian,  Higher Education reporter

Missed opportunities, ill-conceived market reforms and ham-fisted program cuts have undermined apprenticeships just as they are held up as the answer to an overemphasis on degrees.

Two new reports say “ad-hoc changes” and the sidelining of intellectual input have damaged apprenticeship take-up and completion. The reports, by the Apprenticeships Reform Advisory Group and the University of Sydney, say the elements of an effective apprenticeship system are in place but being weakened by “negative” reforms and a lack of policy coherence.

The reports have emerged after the Group of Eight universities claimed that the uncapped higher education system was creating a generation of over-qualified graduates with crippling student debt, in a society where degrees were the norm and not having one was considered failure.

The Go8 criticisms sparked outcry and charges of elitism. But they have been backed by the Business Council of Australia and TAFE Queensland, which say many would-be university students would be better off choosing technical training.

The ARAG report offers 22 recommendations to reboot apprenticeships. They include a comprehensive review, consideration of tax modifications to encourage hiring of apprentices, and an apprenticeships hub.

Group member Jenny Lambert said some of these proposals had been overtaken by events since the report was delivered in December last year. She said the government had abandoned plans for white papers on taxation and federal-state relations, minimising opportunities for tax reform, while the argument for a comprehensive review had now evaporated.

Ms Lambert, director of training with the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the government had created policy confusion and “an unduly negative view of trade apprenticeships” by extending the term to cover traineeships — typically, shorter training stints in service occupations.

“We need to go back to the idea that there are apprenticeships and there are traineeships,” she said. “We need to understand the factors that affect both of them. If we don’t understand it, we can’t fix it.”

The HES asked new Assistant Skills Minister Karen Andrews why the government had taken eight months to release the report. She said she had released it “as a priority”.

Meanwhile, the Sydney University report says the sidelining of an industry and union voice, along with defunding of group training organisations and increased funding for “low-quality” colleges, have undermined the “vision” of apprenticeships