Our penultimate stop in this series resumes our exploration into the world of workplace learning; this week its Advanced Apprenticeships.

What are they?

The concept of an apprenticeship has been around in the UK for almost a millennium, when young adults would train under a master for up to nine years to learn a specific craft. Parents paid the master for their troubles, and in cities like London it was illegal for an apprentice to be paid for their labour. Thankfully, things are a little different nowadays: apprenticeships in the UK maintain the focus on vocational training – with apprentices spending the majority of their time learning on the job – but there is also a proportion of the qualification spent in a classroom setting. Crucially, apprentices are also paid for the work they carry out.

There are currently four levels of apprenticeship, ranging from an Intermediate Apprenticeship (equivalent to GCSEs) through to a Degree Apprenticeship (equivalent to either a bachelor’s or master’s degree). For today, we’ll be looking at the Advanced Apprenticeship, a Level 3 qualification which can be taken as an alternative to A levels.


How do they work?

Advanced Apprenticeships are available in a huge range of fields, so there is a lot of variation in what an apprenticeship might entail. However, all apprenticeships for any kind of career must meet a set of standards that are drawn up by major employers (known as ‘Trailblazers’) in that industry sector and approved by the government. This means there are some common features:

  • The Advanced Apprenticeship aims to provide you with a set of job-specific, practical skills alongside the theoretical competence and knowledge you’ll need to carry out a specific job.
  • Entry requirements are generally five GCSEs at grade 4 (C) or above, including English and maths.
  • The length of time to complete an apprenticeship may vary between one and four years, but they are usually completed in two.
  • You’ll spend 80% of your time on the job with an employer, carrying out the practical tasks involved in the career. You’ll gain first-hand experience of the job in question whilst being supervised by a more senior member of the team.
  • The other 20% will be spent in a classroom setting. Employers often partner up with local training providers such as colleges, or they might have set up their own learning centre. Here, you’ll acquire the knowledge required for your career, alongside learning some basic core subjects like English and maths. This could be on day release (spending one day per week in college), or in blocks of several weeks at a time.


What can I study?

There aren’t any ‘subjects’ like there are with academic qualifications; Advanced Apprenticeships tend to be tailored towards a specific job or career and are provided by a single employer. There are thousands of apprenticeships going, with hundreds of employers ranging from the Royal Air Force and Mercedes-Benz to Aldi and Unilever. However, of the several hundred thousand Level 2 and 3 apprentices studying in 2017, a 2017 survey reported that 85% of these were working in the fields of business, health, engineering and retail.


How will I be assessed?

There are no standard written exams like academic qualifications. Assessment will vary depending on the specific apprenticeship you undertake, but generally there will be a final assessment as well as progress checks along the way. Types of assessment may include practical or theoretical tests, interviews or the creation of a portfolio of work.

Grading of assessments can either be a simple Pass-Fail system or a four-way system of Distinction, Merit, Pass and Fail.


What are they worth?

Advanced Apprenticeships are  geared towards students looking to jump straight into employment rather than heading to university: in a 2017 government survey 65% of companies providing apprenticeships said that all of their apprentices stayed working for them after completing their qualification. There is no formal UCAS tariff given on the UCAS website, although it is generally agreed that completing an Advanced Apprenticeship is roughly equivalent to gaining a pass in two A levels. However, a similar survey reported that a number of students did go on to study at university – so it is by no means impossible!

An apprenticeship of any kind is designed to help you develop very finely-tuned skills relevant to a specific job, so even if you decide to leave your employer after completing an Advanced Apprenticeship, you should have built a solid basis from which to secure a similar role.


And of course, what will I earn?!

One of the big drawing points for prospective apprentices is the possibility to ‘earn while you learn’. So as well as gaining valuable work experience in an area of your choosing, you’ll also get paid to complete the qualification!  If you are under 19 when you start your Advanced Apprenticeship, you must be paid at least £3.90 per hour in your first year. This rate grows in the following years, or if you are over 19.



In the UK there is a well-documented skills shortage in many of the industries which offer apprenticeships. As more and more students aim to go to university, this vocational alternative could stand you in good stead and set you apart from the crowds. Advanced Apprenticeships are, however, very specific qualifications, so you should make sure you are certain you want to pursue the career which the apprenticeship would prepare you for.