How to improve learner retention and raise achievement rates


Poor learner retention and low achievement rates are long-standing issues in the apprenticeship sector. What can training providers do to improve engagement and retain learners?

How to improve learner retention and raise achievement rates

The reasons why learners drop out of apprenticeships are varied and complex, so there’s never going to be an overnight fix. That said, by understanding the most common issues that affect retention, you can be proactive about delivering the best support possible.

We look at some of the main factors that contribute to non-completion, plus how training providers are boosting retention in their own organisations.

Common factors for non-completion

Research from the Department for Education shows that personal or domestic factors contribute to up to 40% of non-completions. This includes learners changing jobs or careers (11%), experiencing mental health issues (9%) or having to take on caring responsibilities (8%).

The most common apprenticeship and work-related reasons for non-completion include:

  • Learners being fired or made redundant 
  • Learners feeling like they didn’t have enough time to complete training
  • The training not being as good as the learner had hoped
  • The apprenticeship being badly run or poorly organised
  • Learners not getting on with their employer

Sector-specific issues

A report from AELP and City & Guilds showed that some sectors are more likely to experience certain issues than others. As a result, even the best providers can find themselves battling low retention rates through no fault of their own.

Here are a few of the sector-specific factors highlighted in the report:

  • Agriculture, horticulture and animal care: Mental health issues are serious among young apprentices, and agriculture has one of the largest proportions of apprentices under 19. Mental health is also a major problem in the sector in general – a 2021 survey found that 36% of the farming community in the UK ‘probably’ or ‘possibly’ has depression
  • Construction, planning and the built environment: The length of apprenticeships was raised as a major driver of withdrawals in construction. Multiple Level 2 apprenticeships take 30-36 months – significantly longer than the 17-month average across all sectors
  • Information and communication technologies: Technology is constantly evolving, so it’s no surprise the biggest issue in this sector is the gap between the curriculum and the skills currently required. Being exposed to technology that’s already becoming out of date is creating dissatisfaction in apprentices

Simple ways to boost learner retention

There’s plenty to take away from both the industry-wide and sector-specific challenges. For example, if you’re delivering apprenticeship standards in agriculture, you might want to revisit the mental health support and level of pastoral care offered to learners. 

However, there’s also a lot to learn from peers. Here are three ways that other providers are working towards better learner retention:

Avoid “policing” learners that have fallen behind

For Kara Tuckey, Head of Apprenticeships Academy at Childbase, it’s crucial to be able to catch learners at risk of withdrawal at an early stage. 

Her team uses Bud’s reporting dashboards to get visibility over whether learners are on track, what percentage they are through the programme, and any missed reviews. When it comes to making early interventions, she recommends taking a supportive approach.

“I think it’s important to make it about supporting, rather than policing learners. We want to be able to say to learners, ‘we can see you’re not progressing – what’s the barrier and how can we help?’. If you’ve got a report to hand, it opens up these conversations,” she said.

Read the case study: Why Childbase chose Bud to simplify their training delivery.

Set constant goals to work towards

ANS Academy consistently ranks number one in Bud’s benchmarking for almost every key metric, with an average of 95% learner engagement over the last six months. 

Tom Robinson, Head of Apprenticeships at ANS Academy, explains that giving learners a lot of contact time has made a huge difference. It not only helps with engagement, but allows them to provide guidance and support for young learners who have just come out of school or college.

“There’s never a quiet time. There’s never a time where we’re saying to learners, ‘you’ve got six weeks to go and do this thing, I’ll see you in six weeks’, which I’ve seen from some providers. Not to denigrate that method, but what really helps us to hit those numbers is to keep the engagement really high and keep them logged in,” Tom said.

“Learners have always got someone that’s working with them towards a goal. Every couple of weeks, effectively, there's something there for them to work through. The learning is very ‘chunked up’.”

Read the full interview with Tom in our whitepaper: The trailblazing provider achieving excellence with Bud.

Encourage personal accountability

Creating a sense of personal accountability can also have a powerful impact on retention. Use a learning management platform that empowers learners to access curriculum content at any time, view their own progress and reflect on how far they’ve come. 

“Learners really like being able to see what’s coming next on their programme and to view what they’ve already done. This visibility of progress reinforces a sense of achievement which must help to maintain their engagement,” said Jamie Crinigan, Operations Director at Skills4Pharmacy.

Read the case study: How Skills4Pharmacy have seen immediate ROI since adopting Bud.

Maximise learner engagement with Bud

What are you doing to improve learner engagement and retention? Let us know by tagging us on LinkedIn at Bud Systems – we’ll add the best responses to the article.

Want a more detailed understanding of what Bud can do for your organisation? Get in touch with the team or book a discovery call.