What employers need to help improve apprenticeship completions 

Employers want apprentices to succeed, but barriers like providing time off to study hinders completion rates

Employers want apprentices to succeed, but barriers like providing time off to study hinders completion rates

19 Jan 2024, 13:30

Our new report, published this week, Enabling Better Outcomes: A wider view of apprenticeship success, has revealed that while employers overwhelmingly see the value in hiring apprentices, there are too many barriers to supporting apprentices to complete their apprenticeship programmes.

Crucially, we found that financial barriers hinder the progress of apprentices, as businesses – particularly SMEs – do not have the necessary funds to offer competitive pay, or time off, for apprentices to complete other elements of their apprenticeship.  

Employer perspectives 

This report is the second in our series looking at apprenticeship outcomes and destinations. Our 2022 report looked at apprentices’ perspectives, while this new release provides unique insights into the employers’ views on apprenticeship completions. 

To conduct this research, which was produced in partnership with Learning and Work Institute (L&W), we surveyed over 800 employers to better understand what leads to successful completions, and the challenges they face.

We found that almost all employers view apprenticeship completion as important but only 1 in 3 report completion rates of over 75 per cent, against the government’s target of 67 per cent by 2025. 

Employers told us that the number one barrier they face is the ability to arrange time off for apprentices to study, finish assignments, or complete off the job training. Financial support was raised as crucial to helping apprentices complete their programmes, as it helps cover off-the-job training time and can be used to help apprentices with direct costs, such as transport or childcare.

Employers also suggested their relationship with training providers posed additional challenges due to poor communication and lack of support, as well as lack of staff capacity to line manage apprentices and the ability to pay apprentices competitive rates. 

Importantly, we found that employers who place more value on completion believe apprentices gain better soft skills, industry knowledge and experience, and become more productive employees. 

Unsurprisingly, these employers experience higher completion rates, something that indicates completion is a value not just in itself, but because it has wider business benefits. 

This wider set of positive impacts underlines how apprenticeships play a crucial role in facilitating access to employment, bridging skills gaps, achieving economic growth, and, consequently, generating additional opportunities for the future.

Creating a system that supports employers  

We recommend several policies that would create a system that enables employers to support their apprentices to complete their programmes. 

As a starting point, the Department for Education should convene a stakeholder group to look at what can be done to help employers provide sufficient off-the-job training. Through close collaboration with businesses, additional support and guidance should be published on how this can be achieved, with a particular focus on SMEs, who in particular struggle with the costs of providing this. 

Internally, employers need to reflect on their organisational culture and take steps to create an environment that facilitates more pastoral support for apprentices. A key part of this should be more time being made to train line managers, who in turn can then more thoroughly support apprentices and drive completion rates. 

Additionally, the relationship between employers and training providers needs to be strengthened to support more apprentices. Both parties should be encouraged to consider enabling more three-party meetings – between apprentices, training providers, and employers – throughout apprenticeships, given the evidence this makes a strongly positive difference to apprentices and the prospects of completion. 

We know that high-quality apprenticeships benefit people, employers, and our economy, and are an integral part of the Government’s skills policy in England, but these ambitions cannot be realised unless we expand apprenticeship opportunities and raise completion rates. 

As ever, policymakers, employers, and training providers must work in tandem to create an environment that supports employers to support their apprentices to complete their programmes. Working together, we can see excellent results that will bring benefits to the individual, businesses, and the wider economy. 

The report, Enabling Better Outcomes: A wider view of apprenticeship success, can be downloaded here.

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3 Comments

  1. Universal translator

    I feel compelled to get pedantic on this as using terminology of completion, achievement and success interchangeably is partly why stakeholders can fail to get a common understanding of the same problem!

    Completion and achievement are not the same thing. It can help to use proxy language, let’s say completion = oranges, achievement = apples .

    Apply the proxies to the article above and you get:
    “We found that almost all employers view ORANGES as important but only 1 in 3 report ORANGE rates of over 75 per cent, against the government’s target (for APPLES) of 67 per cent by 2025.

    Both parties think they are talking about the same thing, when they are demonstrably not!

    ‘Completion’ is a status to describe whether an apprentice is still in learning, has left or has completed their learning activities.

    ‘Outcome’ is whether the apprentice has achieved or not.

    The Government does not have a completion target, it has an achievement target.

    The easy answer to get everyone on the same page is to set the primary focus on the ‘reasons for non-achievement’. (then no-one has to feel bad about originally using the wrong terminology & everyone is focused on the important stuff and not thinking the person / people they are talking to doesn’t get it!).

    Additional advice is to drop the term ‘success’ (or PEARS, as I like to think of them). That’s archaic terminology from many years ago, using the same calculation as achievement. (i.e. achievers / cohort or retention rate x pass rate). The word ‘success’ was ditched as it has connotations with the course or qualification being successful. It doesn’t really fit in an austerity environment where money and cost is the prime focus and value has become meaningless. For example, you could have a million achievements on a L3 diploma in worm charming with 100% achievement, but with very little economic success. If, however, money was not the prime focus and you had an environmental catastrophe on your hands where knowing the health and biodiversity of soil was critical, then the ‘success’ of the qualification would arguably be a more fitting term and ‘achievement’ wouldn’t really do it justice.

    My other advice would be to read the funding rules. Giving employees time off for off the job training isn’t optional. If you don’t then they are not an apprentice, but an employee where different wage requirements apply.

    Please feel free to use this in any stakeholder group as an ice breaker. A few minutes to ensure people are talking about the same thing pays dividends.

    • Dawn Wills

      It should, but in sectors such as care this is not always possible. Whilst they already face a monumental staff shortage, they cannot release people away from caring to have time for off the job.

      When off the job was first introduced we all knew this would be setting apprentices up to fail! It’s not rocket science. Perhaps they are now listening.

      Many employers are now paying for stand alone Diplomas to overcome this problem!