The employer perspective: Opportunities and barriers to apprenticeship completion


An effective two-way relationship between training providers and employers is crucial for supporting learners at each stage of their apprenticeship.

The employer perspective: Opportunities and barriers to apprenticeship completion

As the training industry continues to battle low completion rates, it’s never been more important to understand what’s affecting completions from an employer perspective and the support they might need to drive better outcomes. 

St Martin’s Group surveyed over 800 employers and held interviews with 15 employers across a range of sectors, including catering, digital, healthcare, engineering and transport. The research aimed to find out:

  • Whether employers value completions and if this impacts completion rates
  • What employers do to support completions 
  • What barriers employers experience in relation to providing support
  • What support or incentives employers might need to improve completion
  • Whether employers measure their success or return on investment in different ways to completion rates

We run through some of the report’s key findings, and look at what providers can do to foster more collaborative and productive relationships with employers.

The value of apprenticeship completion

Almost all surveyed employers viewed completion as important, highlighting apprentices’ improved technical and soft skills, in-depth industry knowledge and experience, and increased productivity. For some employers, completion was required for apprentices to perform their job roles or progress to a higher level.

That said, there are still some exceptions for providers to be aware of. Employers valued completion less where:

  • Apprentices had already proved themselves to have the competencies required to perform well in their job role
  • Apprentices were on a programme which included another technical or academic qualification, such as a degree apprenticeship 

Achieving qualifications or promotion prior to the end-point assessment (EPA) is proving to be a recurring obstacle to completion. Both employers and training providers reported that apprentices are withdrawing before completing the EPA because they’ve already achieved what they want from the apprenticeship. One Level 6 degree apprentice in business management described the university qualification as “more important than the EPA itself”. 

Providers and employers can try to overcome this barrier by:

  • Promoting the EPA and benefits of completing it
  • Offering promotion or financial rewards on completion
  • Holding back on issuing degree certificates to apprentices until after they have completed their EPA (as one university is reportedly doing)

Common barriers with supporting apprentices

Unsurprisingly, employers said the most common barrier to supporting apprentices was arranging time for off-the-job (OTJ) training. This is particularly problematic for employers whose apprentices are existing staff or employers that have completion rates of 50% or lower.

Other barriers affecting employers’ ability to support apprentices include:

  • Poor communication and a lack of help from training providers
  • Staff capacity to supervise and/or line manage apprentices
  • Inability to pay apprentices competitive rates
  • Challenges around funding and funding rules
  • Work readiness and employability skills of apprentices
  • Administrative burden of managing apprentices

How to build stronger employer relationships

Set clear expectations

The report showed that employers who acknowledge their responsibility for offering support are more likely to provide it. Training providers should work with employers to set clear, early expectations of roles and responsibilities, and address any potential barriers the employer might face with supporting apprentices.

Share the responsibility to identify issues

Take shared responsibility with employers to identify and resolve any issues that might affect learners’ ability to progress through the apprenticeship. These could be work related (e.g. not enough time for OTJ training) or personal (e.g. caring responsibilities or mental health challenges). 

There’s lots of useful government guidance available to help employers provide mentoring, social enrichment opportunities, and mental health and wellbeing support to apprentices.

Don’t make learners the middleman

Regular three-way meetings that involve the provider, employer and apprentice are one of the most effective ways to ensure good communication. 

However, it’s important to structure these meetings so that they’re focused on supporting learner needs rather than simply providing updates. Several apprentices interviewed reported feeling like a middleman between their provider and employer.

Provide best practice guidance

Up to a third of employers would like to receive more best practice guidance on training and managing apprentices. There’s particular demand for guidance amongst certain groups of employers:

  • Employers who hire apprentices on Level 6 or 7 (non-degree) programmes are more likely to be looking for standardised, industry-specific training resources
  • Employers with a completion rate over 75% are more likely to be looking for materials to support apprentices
  • Employers who hire apprentices on degree-level programmes are most interested in support that would help them understand apprenticeship standards
  • Large employers are more likely to look for support to understand the OTJ training requirement than small employers

Give employers real-time insights into progress

Bud’s powerful training management platform streamlines apprenticeship delivery, making it easy for employers to track learner progress from enrolment to EPA. 

Watch our video to find out what makes Bud unique and all the key metrics employers might need for their learners, including:

  • Individual learner progress
  • Signed documents and any documents with outstanding signatures related to an application 
  • Completed reviews 
  • Apprenticeship costs

Find out how Bud can help you build stronger employer relationships – book a discovery call now.