Five reasons apprentices like me are dropping out

8 Jul 2022, 9:00

Training providers are struggling to give clear instructions on what’s expected of apprentices, writes Dexter Hutchings

I started my level 3 in digital marketing in February 2017 and throughout my degree apprenticeship, I have felt like dropping out. But never have I been closer to doing so than now, as I tackle my end-point assessment (EPA).

Unfortunately, figures for 2020/21 showed 47 per cent of apprentices on standards dropped out.

Here are a few of my concerns regarding the new apprenticeship standards, and in particular, the EPA:

1. A lack of forward planning and communication from the training provider

Apprentices must complete a training log as evidence of their off-the-job training. Unfortunately, my cohort was not given access to our training log until the beginning of year two, which led to an increased workload.

While the EPA was mentioned when we started our apprenticeship, it was not spoken about in detail. I believe apprentices should be given a detailed lesson on what will be required to complete the EPA, so they can begin thinking about it.

2. The burden of raising quality has fallen on the apprentice

Standards were introduced to raise the quality of apprenticeships, but it seems like the wrongdoings of training providers has cost apprentices themselves.

Over the years, I have read far too many shocking stories about training providers offering poor training and failing to meet the 20 per cent off-the-job training requirement ̶ in fact, I experienced this myself during my first apprenticeship, with 3aaa.

However, it seems that in a bid to boost quality, we have increased the apprentices’ workload. Apprentices are responsible for logging their 20 per cent off-the-job training requirement and ultimately proving they are work-ready.

3. Occupational standards are a one-size-fits-all approach

A group of employers, described as ‘trailblazers’ by the Institute for Apprenticeships, develop the standards for their relevant occupation themselves.

In my case, I have to prove competency in 29 skills, knowledge and behaviours (SKBs). The problem is that occupational standards can be designed by a group as small as ten employers. In an industry such as digital marketing, ten employers is unlikely to be very representative, and this can be seen in a few of my SKBs.

I completed my apprenticeship whilst working for a relatively small foundation with a marketing team of two. I found that both the course and occupational standards were targeted at apprentices likely to be working for a for-profit business. So it was much more difficult for me to evidence certain SKBs, and probably for other apprentices in similar positions too.

While occupational standards cannot be tailored to meet every individual’s needs, perhaps apprentices could only be obliged to meet a percentage of a larger range of occupational skills but all occupational knowledge and behaviours.

4. The process is overly complicated and repetitive

The paperwork apprentices are given to help them understand the process of the EPA is unnecessarily lengthy and often confusing.

It seems we are guinea pigs

To start their EPA, an apprentice must find a suitable work-based project that will allow them to showcase that they are competent in each and every SKB. Apprentices must consider the implications of confidentiality and commercial sensitivity when choosing this project.

For my EPA, I had to write a report that was then put into a presentation. Throughout my apprenticeship, I have found myself duplicating work, which takes time and seems a little repetitive.

5. There is a lack of knowledge and support

One of the biggest problems throughout the EPA process was a lack of knowledge and support.

This started with our project selection, in which the lack of support ultimately led to apprentices in my cohort changing their project, having already reached their project presentation mock with an external panel.

As the first year to undergo an EPA for the standard I am completing, it seems that we are guinea pigs. Our training provider has almost always struggled to give clear instructions on what is expected of us. Unfortunately, this is understandable when the Institute for Apprenticeships paperwork is so unclear

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  1. Tim Buchanan

    All of the points raised are valid, two especially, the narrow focus of the standards and repetitive paperwork, the system is killing itself slowly due to a dogma of mindless audit and a misplaced belief that roles are linear and that jobs are only developed around that role, we need broader skills to be made available, we need to identify hat some skills will change during an apprenticeship and that qualifications have real meaning for the apprentice and the employer. More flexibility, greater freedom for the apprentice, employer and provider to make changes, less bureaucracy and a desire to develop quality delivery and programmes.

  2. Graham Ripley

    This doesn’t make happy reading, thats true. However speak to under and post grad students of long established universities and you will find in one guise or another many of the issues raised here.

    Thats no excuse of course but it seems culpability for lack/incompetence of support for students, not narrowly confined.

  3. Wow! so sad to read your thoughts, Dexter Hutchings.

    As a training professional, I absolutely 100% agree with every word you have said. So did the learner panel report from the IFATE too.
    Unfortunately, this industry has always had good, bad, and ugly. The latter holds a very large percentage.
    This industry should not be a business 1st, and training second.
    The new smiley face ESFA feedback process for providers should transform this area and about time too although more work is to be done.
    I do not believe the lack of support from some coaches is intentional, I believe their own KSBs are not developed to allow for them to deliver dynamic T&L and support sessions. If they do not understand what they are doing themselves there is no passion or confidence to lead the learner. This is apparent when often the learner’s competence is greater than that of a tutor.
    When a provider has a staff shortage or someone leaves, any tutor will do! Money v Quality. This impacts the delivery of ALS, ALN, FS, or embedding local issues.
    Additionally, low pay will attract low ability, usually. Providers must practice what they preach and develop their own staff with gap analysis and specifically pitched CPD as well as the standardized. How many have the time, desire, or competence to do that?
    Crucial for new trainers. You would not put your baby in the water without a float!
    A large number of quality departments still apply the framework process to standard qualifications. Many of the standards have been around for 5 years or more. There is no clear journey, a lack of training and no desire to reach the dizzy heights of success for themselves let alone the learners. This is where the EPA process and documentation become confusing. If providers embed EPA at induction and link it all to CPD and OTJ, it simplifies the entire process. My very own ”Building the Foundations” process eradicates these issues.
    If a learner feels unsure or overwhelmed, sessions will be avoided or cancelled. They disengage further and either withdraw or become unfunded. Missed sessions, funding payback!
    Leaders must create a robust process to track quality and hold everyone accountable for the part they play in this learner journey.
    Further. When it becomes all about the money, the quality is lost. That statement should resonate with many a provider out there. A well-known providers, recent Ofsted report and grading echoed this very sentiment.
    I have worked in collaboration with 3 EPAOs over the last 12 months and I could not praise them more highly for the free support they offer to providers via their toolkits and support sessions. The issue is, that many providers’ very own key people, do not access this support. Neither creates quality calendars nor processes to continuously develop their own offering nor hold their quality teams accountable. Continuous improvement, change management, delivery at pace, accountability, support, and integrity, are all behaviours as well as skills.
    If we have poor tutor ability now. Where I must ask, will apprenticeships be in the next 5 years as we tackle the bio-economy, sustainability, CSR, environment, and net zero?
    In my own passionate L&D world, embracing diversity, innovation, and creativity collaboratively, is the answer to modernizing technical education.
    The government is doing their bit with the lifelong skills promise. We need to be creating taster and short courses to enhance apprenticeships and get our quality delivery, progression, succession, and destinations in place.

    Bring on Ofsted inspections and for goodness sake, develop your people.
    If it is all about the money, you should not be in this government-funded industry.