Almost one-third of UK apprentices do not complete their apprenticeship programme. Some of this attrition is natural: it’s not uncommon for young people to start out on the wrong path and then make a huge, adventurous change in direction. It’s widely agreed that 100% completion rates would not even be desirable.
If you’re a business investing in apprentices, however, you’ll want to do everything possible to hang onto the young people you’ve painstakingly recruited, inducted and enrolled. And if you’re a young person, you’re likely to have an easier path if you can get good advice, choose the right apprenticeship and stick to it, missing out on the many complications involved in non-completion.
So, why do apprentices quit their programmes, and what can you, as their employer, do to hang onto them?
Apprentices will usually take one of the following three paths when they leave their programme:
- Find a different employer
- Return to education
- Drop out into unskilled work/unemployment
Each of these choices obviously suggests dissatisfaction, under-stimulation, a failure to cope or all of the above. There is a lot you can do to stop your apprentices taking one of these options, especially the disastrous retreat into the world of NEET:
- The right academic support at the right time
Some apprentices will struggle with their off-the-job studies, while others might feel under-challenged and bored. You can help here by keeping your education provider close and fostering a really strong relationship. You need to know who’s strong, who’s struggling and who’s coasting. You or a line manager or mentor can then make time to discuss any issues. Even a five-minute chat with a young person shows them that you’re focused on them and care about their educational progress.
Your learning provider will hopefully be capable of working with different learning styles and strengths: visual, aural, verbal, physical. This is something to raise with them early, as the more flexible the learning is, the more successful your outcomes will be.
You’ll need to get really good at a 3-way exchange of information: between the apprentice, the on-the-job supervisor and the education provider. The CIPD offer some great detailed advice and examples of best practice in doing this (CIPD ‘Apprenticeships That Work’, 2017).
- Everyone needs to know why they’re at work
Apprentices need a really clear understanding of their role in your business and what’s expected of them. They need good guidance about balancing learning on and off the job. They need to know whom to seek out when they’re struggling.
Equally, line managers and mentors mustn’t be left to figure it out as they go along. They need to know what support is expected, what the goals of the apprenticeship programme are, and how to get some support themselves around working with young people effectively.
- It’s a whole new world: give them a map
The world of work is totally foreign to the world of school. Apprentices fresh from school and college will need help with the transition. Depending on your business, they’re likely to need training in soft skills like teamwork, time management and communication, and also in core business skills like negotiation and client management. Young people need to know how to behave in a completely new environment, and they need to know what you expect of them.
If this isn’t something you’ve got the capacity for or feel confident about, Flying Start XP run courses that quickly help apprentices become business-minded.
- They’ll need lots of love
Make sure your apprentices have plenty of support: it isn’t easy being young and new to the world of work, and there will inevitably days when they hate the whole setup. You need these to be the days when they chat with their mentor about what’s going wrong, rather than the day they fire off a hasty email handing in their resignation.
Put mentors in place in addition to managers and supervisors. If you take in regular cohorts of apprentices, have a second-year apprentice mentor a first-year one: it’s an easy win! The benefits of this will be huge for both. Recent research shows that two-thirds of employers already assign workers a buddy or mentor to their young employees, suggesting the effectiveness of this practice (‘Young Workers Survey 2017’, Xpert HR).
If you’re a large business with apprentices spread throughout your operations, it will pay to ensure that your apprentices feel like a cohort and have chances to meet, chat and let off steam. Organise shared training sessions and put someone in charge of organising regular lunches and nights out. The more they feel like a team, the more they’ll grow in their commitment to your company.
Remember, also, that when you’re working with young adults, there is always a lot of variety in terms of maturity. Some apprentices will do well with high expectations and will take off fast, others will need seemingly endless hand-holding. This doesn’t mean you should give up: recognise that the learning curve for some is just much steeper. This doesn’t mean the potential you saw at interview won’t be realised, just that you’ll probably need more thought, planning and support to get there.
- Choose the right people
Sounds obvious, but a big part of keeping apprentices is selecting the right people to start off with. Recruiting apprentices is notoriously tricky, however many are so young they do not have work experience to share, and yours will often be their first interview.
You need to find a way to get around this and identify the people who are resilient, have the ability to learn and who can be positive and work in a team. You’ll also need to put a lot of time into making sure applicants understand the job itself, and the selection process. The CIPD have put together a detailed guide highlighting factors employers need to consider here (‘The Match Factor: Good Practice in Apprenticeship Recruitment’, 2014).
Apprenticeships are a wonderful investment in the future of your business: the journey your apprentices take will be one of the most difficult and important of their lives. If you make it a success, you’ll most likely have created a passionate, loyal employee with unrivalled knowledge of your business. It’s also a two-way street: employers are always surprised by the amount they learn from the young people on their teams.
We wish you luck, and do get in touch for an informal chat if you’re struggling to get it right.
Flying Start XP offers training to companies and individuals. We rapidly instil the essential business skills and behaviours needed to become a valued team player, enabling managers to delegate and trust early starters quicker.We know investing in and developing early careers delivers long term results. Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter for advice on working with and training young people.