Lost opportunities and wasted skills : learning experiences of apprentices and their attrition

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The rate of attrition of apprentices failing to complete their apprenticeship and dropping out of a trade altogether has long been a concern for both industry and government (DEEWR 2008; Knight & Karmel 2011). Attrition amongst commercial cookery apprentices is one of the highest, where more than 60% leave within their first year. Low pay and unsociable hours have often been cited as reasons why many apprentices reassess their career choice (Pratten 2003a; Pratten & O’Leary 2007). However while these conditions are difficult to change, many apprentice chefs leave through poor treatment and the lack of opportunity for learning, rather than the physical demands of the job. The purpose of this study is to investigate learning opportunities for apprentice chefs and their influence on retention. This study further examines the inter-relational dynamics of enriched work practices and learning and its influence on apprentices’ motivation. Apprentices will bring expectations to their apprenticeship from sources external to their workplace and VET. These sources may be from programs on television and the internet (Bonsal 2007), school VET programs (Smith & Wilson 2002a, 2002b) or weekend casual work in local restaurants (Fuller & Unwin 2004; Hodgson & Spours 2001). The origin of these expectations may be an idealised notion of what it means to be a chef but a prevailing motivation to cook for a living. This study examines what motivates apprentices to complete their apprenticeship and qualify in a very challenging industry. Two stages were developed in this investigation where the findings of the first stage informed the progression to the second. Stage one investigates apprentices’ motivation and attrition from a broad spectrum of industry stakeholders where qualitative data was collected in order to gain insight into the viewpoints of key individuals. The Stage One Report Industry and VET was disseminated in order to seek feedback and enrich the data. Conference papers presented during the study also acted as conduits for feedback. Stage two then progresses the study through interviews with successfully qualified apprentices and their nominated mentors to capture the voices and perceptions at the core of this problem. The Stage Two Report Industry and VET was published and disseminated for feedback, again to enrich the data together with a final conference paper. The resultant findings present evidence of generational shifts in apprentices’ expectations of their learning and work practices in the workplace. The sociological implications for workplace reform may require effective industry and VET changes for the next generation of apprentices. Recommendations have been generated for the industry and VET to apply in practice for the retention of apprentices.
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