Reducing withdrawals across apprenticeships

By Rob Nitsch on

The third of a series of blogs by Rob Nitsch, Chief Operating Officer for the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education.

Apprenticeship withdrawals was an issue that the Institute was looking at before lockdown with the Department for Education (DfE).  Despite all the efforts being made to ensure that apprentices finish their training and pass their end point assessment (EPA), the impact of Covid-19 on apprenticeships will be exacerbated if apprentices withdraw voluntarily or by default.

The 2019 FE learners and apprentices survey showed how complex the reasons behind withdrawals and non-completion can be.  For example, 29% said this was down to issues with the apprenticeship itself, 28% cited personal or domestic issues, and 14% left for other employment or training.  

A range of options are being looked at to better support apprentices throughout their journey and increase the achievement rate.  These include providing better upfront information to apprentices about what the programme involves - so they know what to expect and can make more informed choices, with regard to the right programme.  Confirming the division of responsibility between the apprentice, employer and provider more clearly and how they can support each other is another high priority.

There is potential, with a limited number of apprenticeships, that apprentices might be reluctant to complete the EPA if other qualifications have already been achieved.  EPA has been designed to take a view of all aspects of occupational competence and we therefore believe it is important, and in the interests of apprentices, that they continue through to pass EPA.  To this end the Institute is looking at how EPAs interact with mandatory qualifications and professional recognition. As well as improving value for money and making things easier for all those involved, this could help strengthen both assessments.  

We have already seen encouraging signs of how such an approach could work through the flexibilities we have introduced in response to the challenges presented by Covid 19, for example to help ensure that nursing apprentices can continue to complete during lockdown.  The flexibilities agreed with the National Health Service and Nursing and Midwifery Council, have been well received and assisted with the acceleration of nurses through training.  

The Institute is also looking to provide more materials to support highest quality apprenticeship programmes. This could involve sharing specimen training plans for a range of apprenticeships to improve the matching of an apprenticeship to the potential apprentice’s aspirations and aptitudes.  These would include advice and guidance on off-the-job training and how that links to on-the-job training.  The intention is not to create blueprints or ‘the answer’, but to share best practice and ideas – so food for thought rather than a template.  

We are running a pilot with the laboratory technician apprenticeship. A working group has been set up to develop a ‘best practice training’ plan. The first meeting takes place on 13 July including representatives from the Institute, the Gatsby Foundation, the Royal Societies, colleges and training providers, and employers. 

Over time, we hope this will come to enhance the consistency of training for all apprentices and facilitate easier transfer between employers of different sectors – for example dental, biomedical, pharmaceutical - with a detailed record of the knowledge and skills gained at each stage of their apprenticeship.