Many apprentices aren’t receiving the organisational support they need to succeed, according to a new study from The Open University.


In Focus: The Work-based Learning Dividend – authored by Towards Maturity and developed through a series of interviews with business executives, learning and development leaders and apprentices in training – found that nearly half (45%) of apprentices don’t have enough time to study, despite the new apprenticeship standards requiring that at least 20 per cent of working hours are ring-fenced for off-the-job training.


The ‘20 per cent off-the-job apprenticeship funding rule’ is a new requirement enforced this month which stipulates that, in order to access funding, employers must have evidence that the apprentice spends at least 20 per cent of their time on off-the-job learning. However, the findings suggest that many organisations are struggling to fulfil this.


In fact, despite the majority (93%) of employers having good intentions to fully integrate learning into the workplace, in reality just 15% have managed to achieve this.


With the introduction of the apprenticeship levy last month, many more employers in England are considering apprenticeships for the first time and how to use the funding effectively to meet their business objectives. The impact on organisational culture – that is, ensuring all staff are informed, engaged and managed through the changes – is just one of many important points employers need to address to ensure smooth integration.


Line manager support is critical to the success of apprenticeships – three in five (61%) apprentices rely on mentoring from a more experienced colleague as part of their work-based training. Yet the study found that one in five (20%) apprentices do not receive enough support from their line manager, suggesting more help is needed for both apprentices and those working with them.


According to recent research form the UKCES1, close to half (48%) of employers don’t train their managers, and yet these are the most influential people for most apprentices. Buy-in from senior management is also an issue in many organisations, with just 41% of senior managers demonstrating a commitment to learning.


However, those organisations that have successfully embedded workplace learning are reaping the benefits. The study found they are five times more likely to report increased performance and agility, and three times more likely to report improved efficiency and fine-tuning of business processes – indicating the crucial impact the right workplace training programmes can have for employers and their staff.


Technology-enabled learning is playing a critical role in this and offers a solution for employers wanting to ensure they fulfil the 20% off-the-job training rule. The study found that by using technology, learning is delivered 27% faster and apprentices are able to study 21% more efficiently, thereby reducing overall time away from the workplace and with greater learning impact.


Using technology, two thirds (66%) of apprentices are also able to access an online support network to help them learn, whether that is finding support from an online tutor, or collaborating with other learners, providing flexible and efficient delivery and keeping employees engaged.


Nearly a quarter (23%) of leaders in L&D agree that by introducing technology-enabled learning apprentices have up-skilled faster as a result.

Commenting on the research, Steve Hill, External Engagement Director at The Open University, said: Addressing the talent deficit is crucial to tackling productivity and ensuring the UK remains competitive on the world stage. Never has there been a stronger need for the ‘learning organisation’ – an employer that values the development of adaptability and agility in its employees.

“Supporting a culture of learning is central to this. And it’s up to the influencers in the organisation, senior and line managers, mentors and teams to build an environment where the apprentice becomes a confident and respected team member making a valued contribution to the business. Using technology will also alleviate concerns around the requirements to deliver work-based training, by significantly reducing time for all involved.

“But employers are not alone. Training providers can do more to help organisations build these learner support networks. Here at The Open University we provide training for apprentices’ line managers and mentors to ensure they can support and fully integrate work and learning, and our technology-enabled learning model not only enables flexible delivery but consistent delivery at scale, helping organisations achieve their business goals.”

Jane Daly, co-author and Head of Strategic Insights at Towards Maturity, adds: “Taking into account Towards Maturity’s 13 years of evidence-based research with more than 5,500 L&D leaders and more than 35,000 learners globally, I have been inspired by the apprentices and leaders I was privileged to interview as part of this research.


“This latest research has highlighted that leaders and people professionals not only need a growth mindset, but also the ability to create long-term, networked and boundary-less talent experiences. Smart work-based learning experiences will pay out huge dividends if they are intrinsically linked to a learning organisation prepared to listen, learn and continuously transform itself.