Why do so many apprentices leave their apprenticeships?

Alice Bednarz, National Centre for Vocational Education Research

Approximately half of all apprenticeship contracts in the trades are not completed. In this context, this review draws together existing research on why apprentices do not complete their training. The issue of non-completion is considered from multiple angles, including apprentices’ self-reported reasons for non-completion, the impact of employer characteristics, and apprentices’ and employers’ satisfaction with the training provider. The report is based on findings from surveys undertaken by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) and other national surveys, industry studies and research papers.

Key messages

  • Employment-related reasons are the most commonly cited reasons for not completing an apprenticeship. These include experiencing interpersonal difficulties with employers or colleagues, being made redundant, not liking the work and changing career. By contrast, issues with the off-the-job training are the least frequently cited reasons for not completing an apprenticeship.
  • There is a large difference in completers’ and non-completers’ satisfaction with their employment experience overall. The majority of completers (80%) are satisfied with the employment experience overall, compared with just 42% of non-completers. This provides further evidence that the employment experience, rather than the off-the-job-training experience, carries greater weight in whether an apprentice stays or goes.
  • There is conflicting evidence on the importance of wages. Most studies find that low wages are not the most common reason for non-completion, but they are nonetheless one of the top few factors. An increase in wages alone is unlikely to solve the problem of low completion rates, since multiple factors are often to blame.
  • Apprentices generally leave their apprenticeship contract early on: 60% of those who leave do so within the first year.
  • The influence of the employer cannot be overstated. Employers with the highest completion rates are generally larger, experienced employers with well-organised systems for managing and recruiting apprentices. Employers with lower completion rates tend to be smaller and have less experience.

These findings suggest a number of ideas for future policy developments, such as encouraging more rigorous recruitment practices; providing greater support for smaller, less-experienced employers; providing greater mentoring support for apprentices, particularly in the early stages of their apprenticeship; and considering alternative apprenticeship models, specifically those that reduce the pressure on employers.

The full paper can be found here