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The time has arrived for serious consideration of the introduction of higher apprenticeships in Australia. This does not just mean at the Diploma and Advanced Diploma level in the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector, but the incorporation of higher education qualifications as well. The Australian economy is not only moving to a more knowledge-based economy but one that requires a higher and more pervasive level of digital skills. Accordingly, the Australian workforce needs to be more highly skilled than ever.

The apprenticeship model is a key platform for the delivery of workforce skills. As these skills need to be at increasingly higher levels the apprenticeship model needs to move and adapt to these challenges. Employment-based learning models such as apprenticeships are the most highly valued forms of training. Not only do these modes need to be preserved but they also need to be extended.

Experience from other similar economies is demonstrating this need for change. The United Kingdom has introduced both higher and degree apprenticeships in recognition of the need to fill these skill gaps in their economy. Germany has long recognised the benefit of combining university and VET qualifications with substantial workplace learning. The European Commission has identified the benefits of blurring boundaries between vocational and professional learning. In a more piecemeal fashion, the United States has implemented some degree apprenticeships as part of its overall expansion of apprenticeship offerings.

There is no more pressing arena in which to develop these new approaches than the adoption of Industry 4.0 skills. The highly advanced technological changes in the Australian economy, as in other OECD economies, provide significant challenges of response to the fourth industrial revolution. Increasingly companies need to wrestle with the technology associated with this new wave of change to remain globally competitive. The Australian workforce does not just need more skills but different skills and at a higher level to be able to meet this challenge. The Australian Industry Groupled Industry 4.0 Higher Apprenticeships Program is exactly designed to meet this challenge.

The introduction and implementation of higher apprenticeships poses significant challenges to the education and training landscape in Australia. The time is fast approaching when these challenges need to be addressed so that the workforce is able to acquire the skills necessary for a prosperous economy in the twenty-first century.

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