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An investigation into apprenticeship completion and retention in Northern Ireland: A social exchange perspective

This paper investigates effective strategies for enhancing completion rates of apprentices and their retention after completing their training. The study was cross sectional and qualitative, involving semi‐structured interviews with managers and four focus groups involving current and completed apprentices from within the engineering sector. The findings revealed that the factors that can enhance intentions of completing an apprenticeship were perceived organisation support (POS) factors such as apprentice pay, recognition and employer support. Leader Member Exchange (LMX) factors such as support from trainers and supervisors, would increase their intentions to complete an apprenticeship and stay on with an organisation after training. The key Percieved Organisational Support factors that would enhance intentions to stay with the organisation after completion were post apprenticeship pay, career progression and challenging and interesting work. Participants with high Perceived Organisational Support and Leader-Member Exchange, had higher intentions of completing an apprenticeship and staying with the employer after completion and vice versa. This research added to the literature on apprenticeships as it analysed the factors influencing current and completed apprentices’ intentions to discontinue or complete an apprenticeship and stay with or leave their employer after completion through the lens of social exchange theory (SET) (Blau, 1964). This is unlike previous studies that emphasised motivation theory. Social Exchange Theory was supported as both employers and apprentices weighed the costs and benefits of their relationship which impacted on their completion and retention choices. The implication of this study is that employers should develop effective strategies for enhancing completion and retention rates to reap the full benefits from apprenticeships.