Apprentice drop-out rate hits 36% as recession bites

Over one-third of apprentices dropped out of training last year – but the shadow minister for learning has warned that retention rates could get even worse during the recession.

Government statistics revealed that 36% of those due to complete anapprenticeship in 2007-08 dropped out – compared to only 9% at universities.

Start rates for apprenticeships this year are already down on previous years. The number of 16- to 18-year-olds signing up for apprenticeships has fallen 8.3% from last year, while the number of 19- to 24-year-olds joining schemes was down 2%.

John Hayes, Conservative shadow minister for lifelong learning, told Personnel Today that while apprenticeship drop out rates had been decreasing year on year – the rate was 41% in 2006-07 – the recession could reverse this trend.

He said: “If you look at the completion rates over the past decade they have improved. But one of the problems we face is that with the recession that could change dramatically.

“My worry is that gradual improvement may well be put at risk by the recession.”

John McNamara, chief executive of the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils, agreed that completion rates would be adversely affected by the recession as employers are forced to cut back on the number of places offered and many apprentices are being made redundant.

“Completion rates have always been a problem,” he said. “But the fly in the ointment is the recession.

“Apprenticeship starts this year are already down against targets, due to the recession, and completion rates are likely to be down because some of the people laid off will be apprentices. Some employers are also making decisions not to fill posts”

But with the government having pledged £1bn to support apprenticeships this year, Stephen Overell, associate director of independent think-tank The Work Foundation, warned that there was a risk resources could be wasted if tackling retention rates was not made a priority.

He said: “There is absolutely a concern that the government is wasting money if one third of apprentices are dropping out. It’s a long-running issue and is something the government has to deal with.”

McNamara added that pressures on public finances next year could further hit retention rates. “From next year there will be pressure on every single budget and it would cause problems,” he said.

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