From education to employment

Apprenticeship leaving rates are rising. What does this mean for UK businesses?

Nichola Hay

A new report by education think tank EDSK titled ‘No Train, No Gain’, found that nearly half of apprentices (47%) do not complete their apprenticeship programmes. The report suggested that the main reason for respondents not completing their apprenticeship programmes included “poor quality” schemes, lack of in-person and practical training, and inadequate management.

Although it’s disheartening to see these reasons cited in this report it’s important to remember there will also be a good proportion of leavers who moved on for positive reasons. This includes being promoted or having found better suited job opportunities, which could have made their ongoing apprenticeship programmes less relevant for their careers. Current recessionary challenges and the ongoing impact of the pandemic could also have a role to play in the number of apprentices quitting, as people seek higher paying jobs in the short term.

To ensure apprenticeships are suitable for both apprentices and businesses for the long-term, business leaders and HR teams need to invest more strategically and consider designing apprenticeship programmes in collaboration with training providers. These programmes should be motivating, challenging, and effective in building skills essential for personal and professional development. This will help apprentices see the long-term development opportunities and encourage them to complete their programmes and reap the intended benefits.

Why are apprenticeship schemes important?

Apprenticeship schemes are vital to upskill the workforce and enhance the employability and capabilities of young talent. They should always be tailored according to business needs and used as a tool to make the workforce more diverse and inclusive. What some businesses might not know is that apprenticeships are suitable for both those new to a business, as well as those already established within a company looking to upskill or reskill to develop.  With strong apprenticeship programmes in place, businesses can benefit from a sustained, loyal, and home-grown workforce, with industry-specific and transferable skills and behaviours that support business growth.

Where we are now?

With this report showing that almost half of apprentices do not complete their apprenticeship, the need for collaboration is evident. As an industry, both training providers and businesses with apprentices, we need to think about the steps that could be taken to consistently improve the construction and quality of apprenticeship programmes to keep learners engaged throughout.

There is no room for poor delivery in the apprenticeships sector, and there are a variety of measures in place to identify poor practice.  Those training providers and businesses that are already working collaboratively to deliver a great learning, training, and employment experience, need not worry. But for those who’ve lost apprentices in the past year due to challenges with the delivery there are some clear steps that can be taken.

How to shape an engaging apprenticeship

We all know the benefits of apprenticeships. Whether it is supporting succession planning, bridging skills gaps, upskilling the existing workforce, or widening diversity by providing recruitment opportunities at all levels of the business. With the right apprenticeship scheme, the positive tangible impact on your business cannot be understated.

To achieve this, employers and training providers need to work collaboratively to design a thorough framework for each apprenticeship programme. By working together to design a bespoke programme, businesses can better measure the impact of apprenticeships. The first step to charting the impact of apprenticeships is benchmarking. Benchmarking your existing staff and skillset up front helps you to understand the gaps that can be filled by apprenticeships. Once you know this you can design and plan programmes with your training partner to ensure you’re getting the most from your apprenticeship training budget and seeing real impact within the business.  

One key element of apprenticeships that should sit at the heart of their design is on-the-job training. For government-funded schemes, apprentices who are aged 16 years and over, must spend 20% of their time in “off the job training”.

Whether mandatory or not, on-the-job training is an essential part of the apprenticeship experience, to ensure that apprentices receive a well-rounded perspective, and a strong positive impact on their skillset – and it is key to making sure they feel engaged and connected to the wider team.

Apprenticeship schemes should be designed in such a way, that they have various steppingstones and bridges, from the beginning to the end to ensure apprentices are developing and learning every day, along with guidance for how to apply the learnings from the apprenticeships in one’s career.

Progression within the curriculum is essential, as well as being flexible to individual apprentices and their development goals. Apprentices should also be given a curriculum or syllabus before they start their training, to clearly communicate what they will be learning over the course of their apprenticeship programme, so they know what they’re working towards. This enables apprentices to understand their role and take an active part in the business from the very beginning, making them more engaged and involved, further reducing the chances of them wanting to leave the programme early.

Final thoughts

This EDSK has given those across the apprenticeship sector chance to sit up and take stock of the current situation. It gives training providers and businesses a reason to evaluate the current limitations of apprenticeship programmes in England and consider what they can do better to keep apprentices more engaged and ensure businesses are getting the most from their apprenticeship programmes. Curriculums should be designed collaboratively to ensure the apprentice experiences are rewarding and engaging, increasing both satisfaction levels and fulfilment.

However, while there are certainly learnings from the EDSK report, it is important that we look into the leaver data more closely to understand the reasons behind it. To act on any data and make the necessary improvements as an industry, we need to ensure the information we rely upon provides a full and accurate picture of the current apprenticeship market. To do that in this case, we need solid evidence which takes into account the positive leavers – otherwise we risk being misguided by data that fails to paint the full picture.

By Nichola Hay, Director of Apprenticeship Strategy and Policy at BPP

Related Articles