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Apprenticeships toolkit: Pre-apprenticeships

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What are they?

Apprenticeships are positions of paid work in a firm including training provided by the employer, typically leading to a formal qualification or title. They are provided in different forms across a variety of countries. ‘Pre-apprenticeships’ are programmes which precede an apprenticeship, and provide foundation skills required to help with a full apprenticeship. They may be school or vocational based (or a mix of the two). In some cases, pre-apprenticeship programmes are specifically designed to aid the transition to, and completion of, a full apprenticeship. In other cases, they take the form of lower level qualifications, which may help transition or completion, but where these are not specific programme objectives.

We consider the effects of pre-qualifications for general employment training in a separate toolkit.

How effective are they?

The available evidence suggests that pre-apprenticeships can increase apprenticeship enrolment. All three studies that consider enrolment show positive effects for some individuals. But aspects of scheme design may affect outcomes. For example, in an Australian study, there are no positive effects on enrolment for pre-apprenticeships that are taken parallel to formal schooling. In another German study, there are negative effects when individuals took multiple pre-apprenticeship internships that are short in duration.

The evidence is less clear on whether pre-apprenticeships help with completion. Two studies examined the impact of pre-apprenticeship on subsequent apprenticeship completion. One Australian study finds that pre-apprenticeship participants are no more likely to complete their apprenticeship than those without a pre-apprenticeship. A second Australian study does find a positive effect on either being enrolled in, or having completed, an apprenticeship. But it is not possible to say if the programme impacted on completion rates once enrolled.

Two studies consider the impact on employment and wages. One of these finds no effects in the longer run, although it does suggest there may be positive effects of pre-apprenticeships on the chances of taking (non-apprenticeship) further education. The second study that looks at employment effects is a Randomised Control Trial that evaluates the Community Restitution Apprenticeship-Focused Training (CRAFT) programme that targeted high-risk juvenile offenders. The study finds that CRAFT participants were significantly more likely to gain employment and go on to further education than high-risk youths in education as usual. The results of this study suggest that pre-apprenticeships may be effective for targeting the particularly vulnerable.

How secure is the evidence?

This toolkit summarises the available ex-post (i.e. after introduction) evaluations on the impact of pre-apprenticeships. We focused on evaluation evidence from OECD countries, in English. We considered any study that provided before and after evidence; or cross-sectional studies that compared individuals receiving support to those not receiving support (or that compared those receiving different levels of support). We also included more robust studies that compared changes to participants with a suitable control group. That is, we included evidence that scored 2 or higher on the Maryland Scale.

Generally, the evidence base on pre-qualifications is quite weak. More rigorous studies are required. We found no systematic reviews of the effectiveness and no meta-analysis.

We found five studies that looked at the impact of pre-apprenticeships upon a variety of factors (uptake of apprenticeships, completion of apprenticeships, employment and wages). Three of the five studies consider pre-apprenticeship schemes in Australia. One paper looks at a lower level qualification (the CRAFT programme) for young offenders in the United States, and is focused upon the construction industry. A fifth paper examines the impact of extended internships in Lower Saxony, Germany.

Are pre-apprenticeships cost-effective?

There is no discussion of cost effectiveness in any of the papers.

Things to consider

  • What is the objective of providing pre-apprenticeship programmes? The evidence suggests that pre-apprenticeships may be more effective at increasing apprenticeship enrolment than completion.
  • When and how should pre-apprenticeships be taken? One study suggests that a longer pre-apprenticeship may be more beneficial than many short ones, but that it is better to take a shorter more intensive pre-apprenticeship after school completion than to take a longer version parallel to completing formal schooling. We need to do more to understand what features of pre-apprenticeship determine effectiveness.
  • Could pre-apprenticeship programmes be particularly effective for disadvantaged groups? One high quality study shows quite large effects on employment and further education for a US programme working with young offenders.
Apprenticeships toolkit: Pre-apprenticeships