The St Martin’s Group, a membership body for the country’s largest apprenticeship providers, commissioned the Learning and Work Institute to investigate the reasons behind the issue that has troubled ministers in recent years.
Government data shows that only 53 per cent of apprentices on the new-style standards stayed on their programme until their end-point assessment in 2020/21 – meaning that 47 per cent dropped out.
The dropout rate for frameworks was 17 percentage points lower than standards in 2020/21.
St Martin’s Group’s research, shared exclusively with FE Week, is also the first of its kind to compare the outcomes and destinations of apprentices for those who complete and those who do not, according to the report’s authors.
Here is what we learned…
Lack of employer support most cited reason
L&W surveyed almost 2,500 apprentices, 900 of which had withdrawn from their apprenticeship early. A lack of support from apprentice employers (37 per cent) was the most common reason for non-completions.
This mainly related to employers not giving apprentices time off to study or complete their off-the-job training, according to the report. This meant that apprentices “often worked on their studies and assignments at home, leading to a poor work/life balance”.
Other common reasons for apprentices dropping out was poor course organisation/change to logistics (32 per cent); high workload (29 per cent); a lack of support from their tutor (26 per cent); and poor-quality teaching (24 per cent).
Thirteen per cent of respondents cited a lack of support from both their tutor and employer as a reason for withdrawal.
The researchers found that participants often felt that the employer and training provider “lacked an understanding of the other’s input into the apprenticeship, and like they were the ‘middleman’ in communications between the two”.
Low pay, cited by 12 per cent of non-completers, was 10th most common reason for leaving the apprenticeship early.
‘Drop outs still have positive outcomes’
Unsurprisingly, the researchers found that apprentices who did not complete their apprenticeship were statistically less likely to secure either a permanent job (eight per cent, compared to 29 per cent who completed) or a promotion (seven per cent, compared to 18 per cent who completed) with the same employer.
Apprentices who completed their apprenticeship are also significantly more likely to be in employment when compared to those who did not (94 per cent compared to 88 per cent), and to have received a pay rise (64 per cent and 60 per cent).
Those who completed their apprenticeship are also significantly more likely to be in experienced non-managerial roles when compared to those who did not (46 per cent compared to 40 per cent).
However, the St Martin’s Group said that while the research demonstrates the benefits of apprenticeship completion, it also “illustrates that many apprentices who do not complete still secure positive outcomes”.
A spokesperson added: “This is not captured in the current achievement data used to communicate the programme’s success, risking damage to the brand and public trust in apprenticeships which, during a cost-of-living crisis, is a critical sector for the UK economy.”
How do we improve the drop out rate?
The St Martin’s Group and L&W said the Department for Education should consider how to “realign accountability and responsibility to ensure employers are sufficiently incentivised to support completion”.
“This may require additional support and best practice guidance for smaller employers to help them to manage the demands of hiring, training and supervising apprentices, as well as additional support for apprentices working in smaller organisations – including incentive hiring payments, wage subsidies, and access to support networks,” the report stated.
The research also said there needs to be greater emphasis on pastoral care and wrap around support from training providers; clear and accurate information from employers and providers made available well before apprenticeships commenced; and expanding DfE data collection to capture more detailed information about pathways and reasons for withdrawal.