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Problems with apprenticeships are bad news for apprentices, employers and apprenticeship providers. So, what’s going on?

On the face of it, apprenticeships offer a clear roadmap for every stakeholder. Training providers deliver the in-college/university element of the course. Employers offer the opportunity, in-work training and the potential of a future career. Apprentices turn up, learn, develop and (hopefully) reach the end of their apprenticeship with an impressive skillset and a career for the future.

Unfortunately, reality is proving a little less straightforward.

Apprenticeship completion rates are falling in the UK. In 2018/19, a somewhat underwhelming 65.1% of apprentices achieved the intermediate, advanced or higher apprenticeship they had started. In 2020/21, that figure had dropped to just 57.7%.

The missing apprentices problem

As HR News notes, when apprentices leave their courses, the training provider stops getting paid. Providers need a steady income stream to be able to plan and deliver quality courses. If 35% of your apprentices disappear mid-course every year, you can budget accordingly. When numbers leaving keep rising, it’s far more difficult to cover the overheads.

Inevitably, there’s a knock-on effect. As Kerry Linley, founder and CEO of software development apprenticeship firm Rubitek told HR News, “If they do not receive the funding they are entitled to, [providers] may struggle to deliver the training effectively, leading to a poorer experience for the apprentices and potentially lower completion rates. Employers may also be unable to access the training they need to upskill their staff, which could have a negative impact on their productivity and competitiveness in the long run.”

Why do apprentices leave?

A Learning and Work Institute study into the reasons apprentices left their schemes found a lack of support from their employer was the most cited reason. In the study, as reported in FE Week, 37% of apprentices said the fact they didn’t get time off to study (and the resulting harm to their work/life balance) was to blame. Other notable criticisms were poor course organisation (32%), high workload (29%), lack of tutor support (26%) and poor-quality teaching (24%).

Employers and training providers hold the key

There’s a ‘well, they would say that, wouldn’t they’ element to the L&WI’s findings. Of course, apprentices leaving their course will point the finger at the training provider, the employer or both. It doesn’t mean they’re wrong, though. Then again, it doesn’t mean employers are wrong when they claim that some apprentices lack the self-discipline, confidence, and resilience to stay the course and join the company’s payroll full-time.

Employers and training providers, it seems, hold the key to unlocking what otherwise becomes a tailspin into diminishing training provision and fewer apprenticeships. As the L&WI study found, what’s needed is more pastoral care and wraparound support on the training provider side, and clearer information from employers so apprentices know what’s expected of them up front.

To support that, the L&WI study recommends SME employers receive the advice and guidance they need to better manage the hiring, training and supervision of apprentices. Perhaps then we’ll reach a point where more apprentices feel able to stay the course. And that will benefit everyone.

Want to bring more apprentices onto your payroll? Talk to us about outsourcing your payroll.