The real reasons half of apprentices drop out of their scheme

Oliver Sidwell delves into nine years of programme reviews to find out why apprentices really leave and what can be done about it

Oliver Sidwell delves into nine years of programme reviews to find out why apprentices really leave and what can be done about it

13 Mar 2023, 5:00

In November 2022, a think tank report using government data found that almost half of apprentices (47 per cent) are now dropping out of their scheme, and a huge 70 per cent of those who drop out report problems with the quality of their training – equivalent to an astonishing 115,000 apprentices every year. But what does poor quality mean to them?

RateMyApprenticeship plays host to over 40,000 reviews of these programmes, which are fundamental to helping young people across the country learn, understand and explore their future career options. So we delved into our nine years of data to reveal the key reasons apprentices are dropping out of their schemes.

Leadership matters

“The apprenticeship programme is not well structured. There is never any set meeting with my assessor and she’s really busy so it’s hard to get regular meetings. The units aren’t really explained and I teach myself the content to complete the apprenticeship.”

This student is not alone. Only 14 per cent of apprentices in our sample felt the mentoring they were offered was well-managed. Informal support is always highly regarded by all apprentices, and it’s important to ensure an apprenticeship scheme incorporates both consistency and structure. Senior managers acting as coaches and junior employees mentoring through buddy systems were cited among the higher-rated reviews.

Skills for life

“I feel the qualification merely asked me to answer questions to show the knowledge I already should have to fulfil this role rather than adding to these skills. I don’t feel as though the scheme has taught me any new skills.”

Over the past five years, we’ve seen a substantial increase in the number of apprentices rating their learning highly, from 23 per cent to 29. But that means some 70 per cent still don’t. 

The best-rated programmes offer apprentices responsibility and practical experience, allowing them to develop a blend of soft skills and technical skills. Apprentices see their scheme as part of a long-term continuous growth plan.

Part of a culture 

“I have not been invited to any social or team event at work since the second month of my employment, and even that was only by accident.”

One of the main considerations for young people who follow this route is missing out on the university experience. Networking opportunities, extra-curricular activities and an inclusive culture go a long way to ensuring young people feel valued and that they belong.

In addition, learners are passionate about an organisation’s impact and purpose. CSR and sustainability initiatives are often cited in higher-rated reviews as empowering and communicating a wider purpose to their programme.  

Passion projects

“The work is mundane at times, although I did not expect to come into this apprenticeship and love all the work I did.”

With low unemployment levels, apprentices have high expectations of the company and programme they join. They want to feel engaged and inspired, proud of their work, and match up the work that they do with a broader overall company mission.

Encouraging apprentices to pursue passion projects alongside their everyday tasks can enhance the enjoyment of their schemes. This could be joining a social impact teams, shadowing other members of the business or supporting other tasks that aren’t part of their assessed activities.

Cushioning the cost

“My salary just covers my outgoings each month. It costs a lot of money to get here each day by car, therefore I have to get alternative transport but this is still quite expensive.”

More than one-third (38 per cent) of apprentices found their travel costs challenging. To make an apprenticeship programme more viable, organisations need to think longer-term and pay their apprentices enough to minimise financial pressures.

If they do, research suggests they’ll get more out of the apprentice too. A recent report from ISE shows organisations in the graduate labour market offering interest-free loans, sign-on bonuses and transportation allowances to help cushion the rising cost of living.

Drop-out rates represent a massive loss of time and talent for businesses. But the solutions can’t be found among employers and providers alone. It’s crucial we listen to apprentices themselves to drive up quality as apprenticeships take centre-stage in the nation’s economic planning.

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