Campaign details

What we found out and what apprentices said

Who we spoke to

VRQA Authorised Officers interviewed 60 apprentices and trainees. Over 50% were in their first year, with most others in their second year.

They ranged in age range from 17 to 47. One in 3 were over 30 and 5 were under 18 (including 2 school-based apprentices).

The average age of those interviewed was 28, whereas the average age of women apprentices across all industries in Victoria is 22*.

The apprentices and trainees work for 32 employers of differing sizes and types:

  • 7 large employers with over 400 employees
  • 3 group training organisations
  • 3 local councils.

What we asked

In addition to the standard VRQA regulatory questions, we asked apprentices and trainees if they:

  • felt they were treated differently, or otherwise disadvantaged due to being a woman
  • had experienced or witnessed bullying
  • felt unsafe in the workplace.

What they said

Overall, feedback from apprentices and trainees was positive.

83% did not report any current issues, with many positive about their experiences.

They treat me so well. They are so kind and supportive, and I have to say I feel a part of the team. No picking on me because I am a girl. I really like where I am.

Some who experienced problems raised the issue within the workplace and the problem was resolved.

They treat me very well. If not, I can always report this to my boss, and they will fix it. I had issues in my last job, and they fixed it and moved me [to a different host].

Most recalled signing a training plan (65%) or thought they had (28%), and believed they had a copy.

78% reported being supervised appropriately (described as with one or more senior/more experienced supervisors always in close proximity) and many knew their supervisors’ qualifications and years in the industry.

97% stated they could access the same tools and equipment as other apprentices or trainees.

I 100% do. I have never had an issue at all regarding any access to tools. I am treated just like everyone else. I am seen as an equal.

There was great variation in the delivery and frequency of off-the-job training – 90% were satisfied with some combination of blended, block release, and trainers visiting their workplace.

All reported they were paid appropriately – once their training plan was signed. A few mentioned arguing with their employers about being paid as a labourer while waiting to transition to an apprenticeship.

What they need – safe work environments and supervision

While the headline results are positive, the culture of silence over mistreated women apprentices and trainees indicates that often apprentices put a positive spin on their workplace circumstances.

In one workplace, an apprentice told the Authorised Officer that everything was fine. Then her colleague left the room. The apprentice then confided to the Authorised Officer that they experienced workplace bullying. The Authorised Officer maintained her confidentiality and followed up with her after the interview. An investigation is ongoing.

The Authorised Officer noted that:

during the course of these interviews, staff were very reluctant to expand on the details other than provide generic comments as they were afraid of possible repercussions.

Quotes from apprentices and trainees were consistent with this, showing that some employers are not doing enough to create a safe work environment:

I asked a question of another colleague in training, and there were sarcastic comments about me not being able to keep up. This has kept going throughout the course. They make jokes at my expense and it has been horrible. I raised it with them directly and they apologised but I have felt that I have been excluded in some ways from the rest of the group since then. I reported it to the supervisor who has spoken to them and has been really supportive but it’s been a horrible experience to go through. I cannot provide any specific details on names as I don’t feel comfortable and feel it might impact me further.

Wouldn’t say bullied, it’s hard to explain, gender equality is a hard thing to explain, for example, when a female steps into a higher role there is talk that she is in that role because she is a female. The talk is from male counterparts, not a lot of them, most of them are supportive but there is a few who believe it’s purely because of my gender I was afforded the opportunities I have been.

I have been bullied here. I think when you are working with older men sometimes they have issues when women come into the workplace and there are comments made.

Building and construction apprentices and trainees attend workplaces where there is a higher risk of injury or death. If they are poorly supervised, this increases the risk. A core role of the VRQA is to go to workplaces to make sure that employers are meeting their obligation to provide proper supervision by a suitably qualified or experienced person.

Not supervised at all, I do my own work, I work alone in a car supplied to me and constantly on the road …

15% of apprentices and trainees said they are not supervised at all or did not know if anyone in their workplace had that role – 1% would be too much.

* point in time analysis of Epsilon data, median age of all women Victorian apprentices with an active training contract.