Why do so many apprentices drop out? New research offers answers

'First of its kind research' also compares outcomes and destinations of apprentices completers and non-completers

'First of its kind research' also compares outcomes and destinations of apprentices completers and non-completers

New research that further explores why half of apprentices drop out before completing their programme has been released.

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L&W surveyed almost 2,500 apprentices, 900 of which had withdrawn from their apprenticeship early.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.

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  1. It is worth remembering that withdrawals in achievement rate calculations are counted at hybrid end year. An apprentice withdrawing in year one of a three year programme counts in retention / achievement rates in the planned end year (i.e. two years after it happened).

    This is one of the reasons why comparing frameworks to standards can be perilous. The transition to standards has already happened from the perspective of ‘starts’, but the out-turn to completion and achievement is still in transition.

    On Frameworks, achievement rates are likely to get a boost for the next few years as those past planned end year achieve. This will be having a positive impact on rates, making withdrawal look less of an issue and eventually withdrawals should dry up. (the main negative drag on rates will be non achieving completers, which will in turn do some funky things to the pass rate).

    On Standards, achievement rates will currently look lower than they truly are, as we haven’t reached the point where the cohort of those passed planned end year is self sustaining. Therefore, withdrawal looks worse because some the potential achievement is being displaced into a future year (i.e. some of the positive is displaced, but the withdrawals are still there, so very little of the negative is displaced).

    In the midst of that, Covid will have amplified this effect as restrictions affected end point assessment and will have displaced more potential achievers than normal into a future calculation year. That will take time to normalise.

    Add in to the mix that apprenticeships are of widely different durations and that the transition to standards happened at different times and speeds means any shallow analysis of achievement rates risks being misleading.

    It’s good to see a wider view being taken, incorporating outcomes, and it would be shame to risk the brand suffering by not fully appreciating some of the nuances inherent in the methodology.

  2. The short answer to “why are there so many drop outs?” is “because too many apprenticeships are not good enough”. How do we improve them? By taking a systematic approach that starts with the science of how learning actually works (why is peer learning important? when does classroom training work and when doesn’t it – and why? how does a line manager actually teach their apprentice day to day? and hundreds of other important questions that we do not currently ask let alone answer). I don’t see enough (any?) evidence of neuroscience in the discussions around apprenticeships or in the planning undertaken by providers and employers. Until this happens we will improve painfully slowly, if at all.

  3. David Armory

    Some Providers still fail to fully inform employers and apprentices of the commitment required. Perhaps leavers in the first 3 months should not be counted?

    There is no safety net for apprentices who want to complete their programme. This disadvantages the individual significantly. Perhaps a process to accredit what has been achieved? Perhaps a facility to maximise the opportunity by using classes in their own time, night classes for example?

    Still too many employers fail to see the benefits and look at short-term gains, such as more hours doing the job. This is increasing as staff shortages continue. There is no pain/disadvantage to an employer to end an apprenticeship early. Perhaps if employers were paid for the off-job-training to fund a replacement staff member, this might help?

  4. Andrew Hooper

    Another huge hole in this research is the absence of any reference to the huge reduction in the resilience and commitment of young adults in recent years – dramatically exacerbated by the pandemic. That may sound like a cop out but it remains true. This has also been compounded by End Point Assessment – a form of assessment which is completely unfit for purpose and was clearly dreamed up by someone who has absolutely no experience of the real world. Until EPA is ditched and replaced with something which actually motivates and encourages success, Achievement rates will never improve.

  5. Firstly, the attrition rates should also be linked to the staffing in the Apprenticeship sectors. We deliver Adult Care Apprenticeships who are currently suffering a nationally recognised staffing crisis and although many apprentices are enrolled with the intention of completing and achieving, they often move into a totally different sector for better pay and conditions.
    Secondly in relation to the QAR, since Standards have been introduced, we are at the mercy of the EPAO. Although the practical period may have been completed in a timely manner, a lack of Assessors to facilitate the End Point Assessments, meant that our QAR has been negatively impacted. Training Providers should be measured on the Practical Period for timeliness. The overall grade at EPA should be a separate measure.

  6. Carol Hopewell

    Someone needs to look at the quality of delivery of the tuition for some apprentices ,especially in the construction side of education.
    This is because many colleges are taking government funds and putting targets before the needs of both students and staff,by not using the funds as they are meant to be used.
    This is because the current government has encouraged colleges to be businesses as opposed to Education establishments.
    As many highly qualified lecturers are choosing to leave education for the above reasons ,many of their replacements are lacking in the expertise required in certain subjects,especially practical based ones.
    If one did research one would find in many instances that upper management are not supporting lecturers by over loading some with so much work they feel stressed .When they express these concerns along with how they feel situations can be eased they are bullied,highlighted ,singled out and quite often told to leave.
    Think it may be useful to liase with teacher’s Unions in order to find out the true facts.
    Also look on the Indeed websites for opinions on some colleges, especially in North West England.