Purpose - Proposes to provide a description of the factors that underlie retention and to develop a model of the process of retention. Design/methodology/approach - A qualitative study was conducted in a selected number of occupational areas. Interviews were conducted with apprentices and trainees employed under a contract of training; apprentices/trainees who had recently completed their contract of training; employers/workplace supervisors and teachers/trainers. Findings - Provides information about a range of factors and how they combined to shape the process of retention. Recognises that some of the identified factors are more amenable to interventions to enhance retention than others. Research limitations/implications - The study did not attempt to cover all occupations in which apprentices are employed, or to provide any ranking of importance of factors in relation to the retention process. The study encourages a holistic understanding of the process of retention and emphasises the dynamic nature of this process over the period of a contract of training. Practical implications - A useful source of information for those concerned with designing interventions that target factors that are most amenable to promoting enhanced retention in apprenticeships. Originality/value - This paper addresses the often neglected process of retention and offers some guidance in the design of interventions to promote retention in apprenticeships.