Text service gives a boost to apprentices and employers
In mid-April 2022, Training Services NSW (TSNSW) launched a new, free text service to help first-year apprentices stay in training. This is the result of a partnership between TSNSW, the Centre for Education Statistics & Evaluation (CESE), part of NSW Department of Education and the NSW Behavioural Insights Unit (BIU).
Interview with Training Services
We interviewed Derek Hennessy, Regional Manager for Education & Skills Reform at TSNSW. Read the interview below where Derek discusses how behavioural insights helped improve the training outcomes and motivation of first year apprentices and trainees.
You recently launched a free Employer Support text service. What behavioural challenge does this program address?
For decades, there’s been a problem where many apprentices and trainees (‘learners’) don’t complete their qualifications. According to one estimate, the total cost of non-completion including lost productivity and budgetary impacts was $348 million. That’s why, in 2015, the NSW Premier made it a State Priority to increase apprenticeship and traineeship completion from 50% to 65%.
Research by the NSW Behavioural Insights Unit revealed that the learners who are most likely to quit do so in their first year. While there may be varying workplace or training issues, most learners who struggle with their qualifications don’t know where to get help and rarely seek support from NSW Government services as a result.
Over 12-months, in collaboration with learners, teachers, employers and TSNSW Advisors, we worked with the BIU to develop a free Employer Support text service to:
- Encourage learners to seek help when they needed it; and
- Persevere with their apprenticeship or traineeship.
To date, this service has successfully reduced dropout rates by 16 per cent. So, we’re very excited by the state-wide rollout in April 2022. This could see an additional 1,850 apprentices and trainees stay in their course each year.
How did behavioural insights improve this program?
The NSW Behavioural Insights Unit has been amazing through the whole project. They supported our fieldwork, which found that learners deal with many state and federal government agencies for different purposes. However, learners aren’t clear on where to get help, so they default to doing nothing and eventually drop out. Early on we realised how important it was to quickly contact learners and direct them to relevant support services.
The team also helped ensure that all our communications incorporated behavioural insights principles. For example, making messages personalised, providing simple and concise instructions, a clear call-to-action and sending texts during common break times. Importantly, these messages were also delivered at pivotal points along the apprenticeship/traineeship journey.
While the NSW Behavioural Insights Unit helped significantly during the trial period, they also provided TSNSW with structured support and guidance so we could manage and implement this program ourselves.
What are some of the key lessons you learned from this program?
Firstly, that failure is a step towards success. The Employer Support program is the result of a six-year collaboration. We initially started with a different behavioural insights trial, which did not yield a statistically significant result. But we didn’t let that deter us. We took those lessons into another trial and scaled it from there.
Secondly, that seemingly small and simple ideas can have tremendous impact. Improving completion rates for apprenticeships and traineeships remains a complex and difficult challenge. And while there’s several ways to tackle it, behavioural insights proved to be effective tool especially when it came to improving our communications.
Lastly, that there are opportunities to embed behavioural insights in other areas of our work. While this program targeted apprentices and trainees, we can certainly use the concepts we’ve learned to improve how we engage our other customers, employers within industry, training organisations or any other stakeholders within the vocational education and training (VET) sector.
Think behavioural insights can help you?
The Behavioural Insights Unit offers 30-minute clinics for NSW public servants who want advice on resolving a behavioural problem in customer service, policy or programs.
If you work in the NSW Government, book a clinic with the Behavioural Insights Unit today.