New DfE employer and apprentice surveys reveal reasons behind huge drop-out rate

Complex and wide ranging contributers to withdrawals found by researchers

Complex and wide ranging contributers to withdrawals found by researchers

30 May 2022, 16:49

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Personal or domestic factors such as a better job offer, mental health issues or caring responsibilities are among the key reasons for apprentices dropping out, new Department for Education research has found.

And when it comes to apprenticeship-related factors for withdrawals, the most common reasons were that apprentices felt they did not have enough time for training, poor quality training and badly run programmes.

Former skills minister Gillian Keegan ordered an investigation into the “astonishingly” high drop-out rate for apprenticeships last year after original 2019/20 figures showed 39.8 per cent of learners on the government’s new-style “standards” withdrew before completing. This figure was later revised up to 53.4 per cent after statisticians spotted an “error”.

Figures for 2020/21 show 47 per cent of apprentices on standards dropped out.

By comparison, latest DfE data shows the drop-out rate for A-levels in 2019 was less than one in ten (8.7 per cent).

The DfE published its employer and apprentice evaluation surveys for 2021 on Thursday and included a section on “reasons for not completing” for the first time.

From a survey of 541 “non-completers”, the research found multiple and complex reasons that all contribute to dropouts.

Four in ten cited “personal or domestic” factors. Most commonly a this was job or career change (11 per cent of all withdrawals), mental health issues (9 per cent) and caring responsibilities (8 per cent).

The most common apprenticeship-related reasons that contributed to apprentices not completing were: not enough time for learning/training (44 per cent), training not being as good as they had hoped (43 per cent) and the apprenticeship being badly run or poorly organised (41 per cent).

The single most common main reason for not completing was being fired or made redundant (11 per cent), followed by not getting on with employer (10 per cent), not having enough time for learning (9 per cent), a job or career change (9 per cent), the apprenticeship being stopped or cancelled (7 per cent) and no longer wanting to work in the field of the apprenticeship (7 per cent).

And 2 per cent said they left their apprenticeship because of low pay.

Overall, 48 per cent of non-completers said they were dissatisfied with their apprenticeship experience. The most common reason for dissatisfaction was a lack of support from the training provider, college or tutor.

The DfE also found that 83 per cent of non-completers continued in work immediately on after leaving their apprenticeship (44 per cent with their apprenticeship employer).

Paul Warner, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers’ director of strategy and business development, said: “The reasons for apprenticeship drop-outs are complex and wide ranging, with higher rates of non-completion particularly impacting sectors like hospitality, care and retail. The majority of drop-outs are for reasons beyond a provider’s direct control. The pandemic and subsequent cost-of-living crisis have exacerbated many of these, such as changes in job roles, or the need for higher pay resulting in job moves in what is a tight labour market.”

He added: “There is a consensus amongst AELP members that a leading cause of apprenticeship non-completion is a result of an inability to pass functional skills exams in English and particularly in level 2 maths. The new rules on level 2 functional skills announced by the Education and Skills Funding Agency last week are a step in the right direction.”

A DfE spokesperson said they will consider intervening in providers where they are failing to support apprentices to achieve.

“We know more needs to be done to ensure as many people as possible complete their apprenticeship to gain the full value from their experience.

“Providers have a responsibility to support apprentices through to achievement.  Where this isn’t happening we will consider intervention on a case by case basis.”

Other interesting things we learned from DfE’s surveys (apprentices)

The main learner research comprised 5,122 interviews with current apprentices and those that had completed an apprenticeship.

Apprenticeship duration increases

The average intended duration of apprenticeships was reported as just under two years (22 months), an increase of two to three months compared with 2018/19. DfE said this was a continuation of the trend for longer apprenticeships over recent years, partly a reflection of the shift towards higher level apprenticeships.

Over half of apprentices receiving non-compliant levels of off-the-job training

Over half (54 per cent) of apprentices reported receiving at least 20 per cent of off-the-job training. On average, 19 per cent of an apprentice’s working hours were spent on off-the-job training.

The DfE announced on Friday that it is moving away from the 20 per cent requirement and moving to a baseline of at least six hours per week (click here for full story).

1 in 12 apprentices haven’t heard of EPA

Nearly two-thirds of current apprentices (71 per cent) on standards had at least reasonable knowledge of end-point assessment, tended to be informed within at least the first month of starting and in nearly all cases by their training provider. However, one in twelve had not heard of EPA.

Other interesting things we learned from DfE’s surveys (employers)

Overall, 4,085 interviews were conducted with employers.

Big drops at level 2

The percentage of apprentice employers with level 2 completer apprentices on the fell from 62 per cent to 49 per cent (a reduction in the absolute number of apprentices of 43 per cent).

Meanwhile, the percentage with level 3 completer apprentices increased from 49 per cent to 53 per cent (although this was an absolute terms reduction of 21 per cent). The numbers with level 4 completer apprentices rose substantially from 2 per cent to 5 per cent (an absolute terms increase of 70%).

Financial incentives didn’t encourage growth

There was a fall in recruitment of apprentices in 2019/20 and 2020/21 (of 18 per cent relative to 2018/19), mainly due to the impact of Covid-19. To help address this, a financial incentive of £3,000 per new apprentice was put in place for employers, excluding existing staff.

The DfE researchers said the role of the financial incentive in causing employers to recruit more apprentices “is relatively small” with a best estimate of a net increase of 11 per cent in recruitment of apprentices, or 6 per cent taking into account that some recruitment was brought forward.

For most employers not recruiting (69 per cent), the incentive did not trigger recruitment because they had no work for more apprentices.

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  1. FE week still comparing Apprenticeships to A levels for withdrawals when they are not comparable.

    Reasons for not completing were:
    Being fired or made redundant (11 per cent)
    Not getting on with employer (10 per cent)
    Not having enough time for learning (9 per cent)
    A job or career change (9 per cent)
    The apprenticeship being stopped or cancelled (7 per cent)
    No longer wanting to work in the field of the apprenticeship (7 per cent)

    That a lot of percent that are not applicable to A levels.

  2. In my experience too many apprentices are unaware of the committment in terms of time and effort required to be successful. That, in large measure, is down to the employer and provider not being clear from the get-go.

    Another issue is that all too often employers don’t see themselves as being trainers. They often think they’ve handed on that side of things over to someone else when, in fact, they are key to the whole training process.

    • Tim Buchanan

      How about more analysis
      What % of drop outs are existing staff up skilling
      What is the % of drop out for Level 4, 5, 6 and 7
      I would be interested to see figures for those not sectors outside retail, care, or business admin or hospitality in regard of drop out figures.
      The data is too basic as set out to make good comparisons or understand the full range of reason for non completion.

  3. Disappointed

    Totally agree with the comments from Anon (below). A level students continue in a familiar environment often with familiar staff and friends around them. Apprentices are making the transition in to work, which is huge. They are having to find their way in an unfamiliar environment and forge working relationships with a completely new set of people. Comparing A levels and apprenticeships is so inappropriate.
    It is disappointing that those who are making these judgements are so lacking in knowledge and understanding.