What Is an Apprenticeship?
An apprenticeship is a work-based placement that combines practical, on-the-job training with continued study towards a recognised qualification.
Apprenticeships are paid programmes that allow you to earn while you learn.
They represent an alternative to academic-based study, opening up career opportunities for those who prefer a hands-on learning experience.
While traditional apprenticeships were undertaken by those wanting to learn a particular trade – such as construction, mechanics or carpentry – modern apprenticeships span a vast array of sectors.
There are currently over 190 career paths available for apprenticeships, in industries including accountancy, business, law, tourism, civil engineering, retail, [journalism]/industry/marketing-pr/journalism-apprenticeships), media and IT.
Apprenticeships are funded by the government and the relevant employer, follow frameworks that document statutory requirements, and are supported by certified training providers to ensure they comply with national standards.
Unlike internships or work experience, which also offer hands-on learning opportunities, apprenticeships are a formal agreement between an employer and an employee.
You’ll sign a contract, work to a specific placement duration (usually between one and five years dependent on the programme), receive a wage and holiday pay, and complete a structured learning programme designed to boost your career prospects.
For those that prefer to learn by doing, apprenticeships are a great way of acquiring a professional qualification in a way that works for them, while gaining real work experience.
Whichever area of work you wish to enter, choosing to do so through an apprenticeship brings a number of benefits:
Experience. You’ll learn by doing on the job, putting your skills and knowledge to practical use in the working environment. This provides valuable experience and real insight into your chosen career.
Qualifications. You’ll work towards a formal qualification in your chosen field. Dependent on your programme, this could be anything from GCSE- to degree-level equivalent.
Payment. You’ll earn a wage as you complete your training. The amount you’ll earn will be dependent on your age, apprenticeship level and your employer. All apprentices must be paid the minimum wage rate relevant to their age, with some employers choosing to pay more.
No fees. Your apprenticeship will be funded by the government and your employer, meaning you’ll avoid the debt associated with university study. Note that in some circumstances, apprentices over the age of 24 may be required to contribute to their training costs.
Progression. On completing your apprenticeship, you may be offered full-time employment or advance to a higher-level apprenticeship programme.
Higher earning potential. Apprenticeships lead to recognised qualifications – and qualifications lead to further opportunities. In fact, according to the National Careers Service, people with an advanced-level apprenticeship earn over £100,000 more during the course of the career than those who don’t have one.
Networking. Knowing the right people can be a huge boost for a career – and apprenticeships provide the opportunity to start building a network straight away.
In the UK, apprenticeships are available to anyone over the age of 16 that is not in full-time education.
Apprenticeships are not restricted to school leavers and are open to anyone wishing to develop new or existing skills, improve their employment prospects, or embark on a career change.
There are four levels of apprenticeship, each with their own qualification level equivalent and individual entry requirements:
While some require no formal qualifications, most intermediate apprenticeships ask that applicants hold at least two GCSEs of grade C or above (grade 4 or above under the new system) or equivalent qualifications.
If you do not hold a pass-level grade in GCSE English and maths, you may be required to complete literacy and numeracy tests during your application. You will then work towards English and maths qualifications as part of your apprenticeship study.
Applicants to advanced-level apprenticeships may be required to hold three or more GCSEs, dependent on the employer, or to have completed an intermediate level apprenticeship.
Some employers may also ask that applicants demonstrate previous experience within the industry to which they are applying.
For higher-level apprenticeships, you may be required to hold five GCSEs and additional level 3 qualifications, such as A-Levels, an NVQ or BTEC.
Some employers may ask that these qualifications are in subjects relevant to the field in question.
Degree (Levels 6 and 7) – Equivalent to a Bachelor’s Degree (Level 6) or a Master’s Degree (Level 7)
As a general rule, entry requirements for degree-level apprenticeships are the same as those required for university study.
Applicants will be expected to hold five GCSEs and relevant level 3 qualifications, with some employers asking for specific level 3 grading, as well as demonstrable work experience.
Those who already hold a degree may apply for an apprenticeship but, in most cases, will not be eligible for government funding.
The exact entry requirements for an apprenticeship of any level will be down to the individual employer. Beyond your academic achievements, they will also look for qualities such as responsibility, commitment and initiative.
Apprenticeships are available throughout the whole of the UK and are offered by companies of all shapes and sizes, from small independent businesses to multinational corporations.
The National Apprenticeship Service provides a database for current vacancies, searchable by location and apprenticeship level. Smaller companies may advertise apprenticeship opportunities on jobs websites.
Many large corporations run apprenticeship programmes that recruit at certain times of the year. If you’re interested in a placement with a particular company, visit its website to see what opportunities are available.
When searching for an apprenticeship, it’s important to keep these key considerations in mind:
- Does the job role offer the kind of experience I am looking for?
- Is the employer the sort of company I want to work for?
- What are the training opportunities associated with the position? What qualifications will I gain?
- What payment is being offered and what additional costs (e.g. travel) will I have to cover?
- What skills, experience and qualities is the employer looking for?
- What qualifications are required?
- Will the apprenticeship provide what I need to progress in my future career?
Be sure to ask yourself these questions when looking at each opportunity, and before you start the application process, to ensure it’s the right apprenticeship for you.
Apprenticeship opportunities can become available at any point throughout the year. Larger firms tend to recruit from late summer, whereas small businesses may decide to recruit whenever they have the scope to do so.
The application process for an apprenticeship is the same as a job application; each employer will have its own method. This will also be dependent on the level of apprenticeship you are applying for.
Apprenticeship schemes with larger firms tend to have a more structured application process. This may include telephone or video interviews, online assessment tests and face-to-face interviews.
Whatever the process, it’s important to remember that you are essentially applying for a job, and you should approach your application in a professional manner:
Do Your Research. Make sure you understand exactly what the apprenticeship entails and what will be asked of you in your day-to-day role. Research the company so you can be confident in explaining why you would be a good fit.
Tailor Your Application. If asked to send a CV and cover letter, be sure to tailor it for each individual application. Look for the specific skills and qualities asked for by the employer and highlight these in your response.
Proofread Your Application. Check for spelling, grammar, punctuation and formatting, as well as style and tone. To be completely confident your application is error-free, have a second pair of eyes look over it for you.
Highlight Your Key Skills with Examples. This is particularly important for the interview stage. You may be asked competency-based questions, so make sure you have plenty of examples that demonstrate the particular skills required.
Prepare. Again, this is crucial for the interview stage. It may be that you have little to no experience in an interview situation; if so, ask a family member, friend or teacher to help you prepare by running through some standard interview questions.
Be Professional. If you are invited to interview, you need to show reliability and professionalism. Turn up early and make sure you are well presented. Whilst interviews can often be nerve-wracking, try to stay calm and confident.
Don’t Leave It Too Late. Whilst all apprenticeship openings will advertise a deadline for applications, many employers (particularly large firms that attract a high number of candidates) will recruit as and when they find suitable applicants. As such, sign up for job alerts where possible, and apply early to avoid disappointment.
As an apprentice, you’ll spend a minimum of 50% of your placement in the working environment.
You’ll do a real job, supported by experienced colleagues and, often, with a dedicated mentor to guide you through your programme.
You’ll learn first-hand the skills and knowledge required for the career of your choice.
This will be complemented by part-time study towards a formal qualification, either at college, university or a training centre. Normally, this will be for one day a week, though sometimes this training is consolidated into a number of days over a shorter period.
To make the most of your apprenticeship, follow these tips:
Make a Good Impression. Be sure to turn up on time and don’t rush out the door at the end of the day. Show willingness from day one of your apprenticeship to let your employer know you are committed.
Get Involved. The more you put into your apprenticeship, the more you’ll get out of it. Integrate into your team, get to know your colleagues and show enthusiasm from the outset.
Ask Questions. Your employer has taken you on to give you a head start in your chosen career and should be happy to answer any questions you may have along the way. The same goes for your colleagues. Use their knowledge to help your own development.
Take Advantage of Any Extra Opportunities. Some apprenticeship programmes offer access to further training and development outside of your structured programme. These can enhance your learning and improve your employability.
Complete Your Work on Time. The study element of your apprenticeship is just as important as your daily role. Demonstrate your time management skills by completing any assigned tasks in plenty of time.
Ask for Help. Don’t be too shy to ask for help if and when you need it. Your apprenticeship is designed as a learning placement – and the best way to learn is to admit when you need help and seek the appropriate guidance.
You’ll be assessed at various stages throughout your apprenticeship, as well as at the end of your programme. These assessments will test both your occupational competencies and associated academic learning.
Assessments are carried out by the relevant training provider and, whilst individual qualifications may be graded, overall, the apprenticeship will be awarded by way of formative assessment.
This means that the apprentice is not given a grade, but the apprenticeship is ‘achieved’.
Many apprenticeships lead to permanent positions – however, there is no obligation on either the employer or the apprentice to continue the working relationship.
This means that the employer does not have to offer the apprentice a permanent job and, if one is offered, the apprentice does not have to accept it.
You may choose to seek employment elsewhere, progress to a higher level apprenticeship or even return to full-time academic study.
You may find that the field you entered wasn’t quite the right fit for you. In this case, your apprenticeship will have provided you with transferable skills, valuable for further study or a move into another industry.
Whilst apprenticeships were once associated with learning a trade, they now offer opportunities across multiple professions. From engineering to banking and the Civil Service, it's possible to complete an apprenticeship across a wide range of sectors.
They allow those not suited to academic study the chance to work towards a recognised qualification, while gaining hands-on experience and earning a wage.
An apprenticeship is a professional commitment. You should be prepared to take on the responsibilities of your job alongside your study.