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Engaging apprentices and trainees

By Paul Wilson

Traineeships and apprenticeships can be a cost-effective way of providing training and opportunities to young or new employees and are an investment that often benefits the business in the long term through the development of loyal and knowledgeable employees.

Employees will gain hands-on skills and experience while earning a wage and improving their career prospects.

Both traineeships and apprenticeships involve a combination of on-the-job practical experience as well as structured training through a state training provider or registered training organisation (RTO).

The main differences between an apprenticeship and a traineeship include the fact that a traineeship generally has a duration of around 12 months, while a common time frame for an apprenticeship is three to four years.

Both can be completed on a full-time or part-time basis and both result in a nationally recognised qualification, however, a traineeship will be completed in a non-trade related area such as hospitality, business and health, and an apprenticeship will result in a technical trade qualification in areas such as bricklaying, mechanics or cabinet making.

Pay entitlements

Most awards and agreements prescribe a minimum rate of pay for apprentices and trainees, which increases in increments based on time (years) or competency. Most awards also prevent employers from decreasing an existing employee’s rate of pay if they elect to commence an apprenticeship or traineeship, making it very important to check these entitlements before the employee enters into a training arrangement.

Many awards and agreements provide different pay rates for adult (21 or over) and junior apprentices, as well as a different rate of pay depending on which year of schooling they have completed. Trainee wages are usually based on year of schooling, qualification level, and how many years out of school they are. Many apprenticeships and traineeships have the scope to be completed early following attainment of competency or recognition of prior learning. Generally, awards do not allow for a probationary period of longer than 3 months for an apprentice.

Once an employee has completed their apprenticeship or traineeship and is offered ongoing employment with the employer, they will become entitled to the full rate of pay under the industrial award or agreement which corresponds to their age, skills and qualification.

It is important to note that an employee cannot be paid an apprentice or trainee wage if they are simply engaged for a trial or probationary period. Unless they are working towards a recognised qualification through a state training provider or RTO, the employer must pay the full minimum rate as specified in the award or agreement.

Additionally, apprentices and trainees cannot be employed on a casual basis as they must meet the minimum training requirements.


Generally, the award or agreement will contain provisions around the entitlement to allowances. Where the award or agreement is silent or does not make a distinction between an apprentice or trainee and fully qualified employee, the apprentice or trainee will be entitled to the full allowance. Many awards and agreements will state that the terms in that instrument will also apply to the apprentice or trainee unless otherwise stated. Some awards will also expressly state that particular allowances will apply to apprentices on the same percentage basis allocated to their base rate of pay.


Employers must comply with the statutory minimum requirements as outlined in the Superannuation Guarantee (Administration) Act 1992 (Cth) in the same manner as with their other employees.

Reimbursement and deductions

Trainees and apprentices must be paid for time spent at work and in training.

Where they are attending technical colleges, schools or RTOs and presenting reports to the employer of satisfactory progress, they must be reimbursed for all fees paid.

Any deductions made from the employee’s pay to retrieve the cost of training or fees, for example on termination, are generally seen as unlawful under section 324 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act) for national system employers.

This is because the deduction would not be considered to be principally for the employee’s benefit as the training is a requirement of their role. For state system employers, any deductions would need to be authorised by the employee in writing.

School-based apprenticeships and traineeships

Many awards make a distinction between full-time and school-based apprentice and trainees. School-based apprentices and trainees are defined as those who are undertaking a part-time apprenticeship or traineeship concurrently with a course of secondary education.

This involves a combination of secondary school subjects, paid employment and vocational training undertaken both on the job and off the job.

A school-based apprentice or trainee can undertake training in a traditional trade or other occupation at the certificate, diploma or advanced diploma level. The relevant award will specify the employer’s obligations in terms of payment for work and on-the-job training performed as well as any off-the job training.

School-based apprentices are to be entitled to the same amount of time for off-the-job training as their full-time counterparts, however there is generally no entitlement to payment for off-the-job training for a school-based apprentice, only an hourly rate for all hours worked on the job.

The duration of an apprenticeship is to be specified in the training agreement, but cannot exceed six years. It is important to check the relevant award, as it will contain further detail surrounding the terms and conditions of employment for school-based apprentices and trainees.

Before a school-based training arrangement is to commence, it is important to have the consent and agreement of the school, registered training provider and employer.

All parties will need to sign a completed Employment, Training and Education Schedule (ETES) form prior to the training contract being signed.

The ETES should clearly state the negotiated pattern of employment and off-the-job training, which should be undertaken during school hours. School-based apprentices and trainees must engage in an average of eight hours per week of work, including during school holidays. This work arrangement can be varied by agreement and must be specified on the ETES form.

Employers who engage school-based apprentices and trainees in states other than WA should consult the relevant state legislation with regards to the number of hours a school-based apprentice or trainee can be employed per week, and whether the employment must be undertaken outside of, or during school hours.

Termination of employment


Generally speaking, apprentices will be entitled to notice of termination, but trainees will not have the same entitlement. This is because section 123(1) of the FW Act prescribes that notice of termination does not apply to an employee (other than an apprentice) to whom a training arrangement applies and whose employment is for a specified period of time or is, for any reason, limited to the duration of the training arrangement.

Some awards may expressly state that notice of termination and redundancy provisions do not apply to apprentices. To the extent of any inconsistency, an apprentice will be entitled to the better benefit, meaning that because they are not excluded from notice of termination under the FW Act, they are entitled to receive this notice.

Again, it is extremely important to check the relevant award or agreement for relevant provisions and also to read these in conjunction with the employee’s contract of employment in the event that it contains a more beneficial entitlement.

Trainees may also still have an entitlement to notice of termination if this has been specified in their contract of employment and if they have been guaranteed ongoing employment with the employer.

If the employer wishes to terminate employment prior to the completion of the training arrangement, the employer must contact and advise the training provider or RTO in order for them to make alternative arrangements for the apprentice or trainee. Usually a representative from the training body will need to be consulted and involved in the termination process.


With regards to redundancy, section 124 of the FW Act expressly excludes apprentices from the entitlement to redundancy pay, in addition to employees who are employed for a specified period of time. It is extremely important to read this in conjunction to the relevant award, agreement or contract of employment as they may contain more beneficial provisions which will need to be applied.

CCI recommends that you contact the Employee Relations Advice Centre (ERAC) on (08)9365 7660 or email for further information and guidance if you are considering terminating a trainee or apprentice.

Performance management

An apprentice or trainee who is not performing in their role will be subject to the same performance management process as other employees. It is important to take into consideration, however, that because apprentices and trainees are often younger than the rest of the workforce they may not have a detailed understanding of the performance levels expected of them.

For this reason they may also be less confident, therefore the employer may need to put in some extra time and thought to the potential performance management process.

Amongst other things, performance management may involve performance meetings or counselling sessions and a series or verbal and/or written warnings.

Employers of apprentices should contact their training provider when engaging in performance management, as a representative will usually come to the workplace and assist in the process, providing mediation between the two parties. The performance management process should be documented in as much detail as possible.

Workplace health and safety

Trainees and apprentices are subject to the same workplace health and safety laws and obligations as other employees. This means that the employer has a duty to ensure the employee is free from the risk of physical danger, harassment, bullying and discrimination.

Conversely, employees have a duty to ensure they are not putting the safety or wellbeing of themselves or their colleagues at risk via physical or emotional harm.

Because apprentices and trainees are often very young and inexperienced, they can be at a greater risk of being involved in workplace accidents. It is important that employers train these employees appropriately in the prevention of workplace incidents, and in understanding why workplace health and safety is so important.

Financial support and incentives

There are a number of financial subsidies and incentives available for employers who take on new or sign up existing workers to apprenticeships or traineeships.

Employers who employ an apprentice or trainee under a modern award and pay travel and accommodation costs for off-the-job training can also claim a travel and accommodation allowance through the Department of Training and Workforce Development if they meet the eligibility criteria.

Additional government incentives may apply for employers who take on apprentices and trainees:

  • In an area of skills shortage
  • Who are school-based
  • Who are employed to work in regional or rural Australia
  • Who have a disability
  • Who are mature-aged.

Employers can contact the Apprenticeship Office on 13 19 54 for further information.

Further information and resources

CCIWA’s Apprenticeships Support Australia can facilitate employment, manage training and offer support and advice to companies and employees. They can be contacted by phone on 1300 363 831 or by visiting their website. Further information and guidance can also be found via the following resources:

Australian Apprenticeships: 13 38 73

Australian Apprenticeships Pathways: 1800 338 022

Department of Training and Workforce Development – Apprenticeships Office: 13 19 54

Traineeships and apprenticeships can be a cost-effective way of providing training and opportunities to young or new employees and are an investment that often benefits the business in the long term through the development of loyal and knowledgeable employees.

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