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What is an apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship is now a very common route into employment for young people. Available in a wide range of areas, it provides an alternative to academic study for those who would prefer to gain hands-on experience.

One day a week is spent at a local education institution studying for a vocational qualification, whilst the rest of the week is spent working for an employer. Apprentices are paid a salary (see section on earnings), get paid holidays and have the same benefits and rights as other employees.

Research from the National Careers Service has found that people with an advanced level (see section on levels of apprenticeships) could earn around £100,000 more over their career than those without.

An apprenticeship will take from 1 to 5 years to complete depending on the level and will very often result in a permanent job offer at the end. The areas in which an apprenticeship can be undertaken are vast, ranging from hairdressing to accountancy to engineering.

Levels of apprenticeships

There are several different types of apprenticeship, ranging from Level 2 to Level 7:


An apprenticeship enables young people to ‘earn while they learn’, bringing home a salary of at least £3.90 per hour if under 19 (as of April 2019), and at least minimum wage if aged over 19. Many employers will pay more than this, often using a wage scale which sees the apprentice increase their earnings as they increase their knowledge. Salary details will usually be stated in any advertising for the position (see the where to find opportunities section).

Case studies

The following case studies provide a snapshot of the wide variety of opportunities offered by apprenticeships:

  1. Jack is 16 years old and currently a level 2 business administration apprentice at a dentist surgery in his local town. Jack achieved three GCSEs at grade C/4, but only achieved a grade 3 in maths. Jack attends college one day a week, studying for a diploma in customer service alongside his GCSE maths. Both his study and his time at work are helping him develop skills such as how to communicate in a business environment, developing working relationships with colleagues, and the principles of providing administrative services.
  2. Anna is 18 years old and is working as a level 3 teaching assistant apprentice at a primary school in her village. She already has six GCSEs at grade C/4, including in maths and English. Her apprenticeship runs for 24 months. Anna is learning how to keep children safe as well as understanding how they learn and develop. She now has significant experience of supporting teachers and helping pupils within their classroom and hopes to be offered a full-time teaching assistant role at the same school at the end of her placement.
  3. Katie is a level 3 infrastructure technician apprentice at her local college. She helps to set staff and students up on the college’s computer systems and provides support when they need it. Once a week she attends classes at the same college to learn about the technical principles of IT and how to put these in practice.
  4. Tom is 22 and he is on a level 6 degree apprenticeship in chartered management. Tom has three A levels and changed his mind about going to university. On this apprenticeship he is studying towards a management qualification as well as learning about strategic leadership; business finance; project management and sales and marketing strategies. He hopes to be offered a permanent position at the end of his 48 month apprenticeship with his current employers – a district council.

Where to find opportunities

Some companies will advertise their apprenticeship vacancies directly on their website or through an advert in the local press. Larger companies may even have an established apprenticeship programme which recruits annually (much like a graduate trainee scheme) which will be featured on their website.

Apprenticeships are also advertised directly by local further education colleges and other education providers. Again, these will be listed on their websites under an Apprenticeship heading.

Finally, the National Apprenticeship Service provides a database for all apprenticeship vacancies nationwide. Searches can be made based on location, level or industry area.

How to apply

Applications should be made according to instructions in the advert. The following is a typical application process if applying through a training provider or college:

  1. Application form completed electronically
  2. Application reviewed by member of staff, checking that candidate meets the requirements of the job description
  3. Often a telephone interview will take place
  4. If successful following the telephone interview, the candidate will be put forward to the employer for consideration for formal interview
  5. A formal interview with the employer will be carried out and a place offered if candidate is successful.

Myths about apprenticeships

1. An apprenticeship won’t lead to quality full-time employment

Completing an apprenticeship often puts an apprentice ahead of another applicant for a full-time job; the employer knows the apprentice, knows what experience they have and has been responsible for developing their skills. The apprentice is a ‘known quantity’ to the employer whereas another candidate would not be.

Employers invest money and time into training an apprentice. It therefore makes financial sense for them to provide a full-time job at the end of an apprenticeship, rather than give a job to someone else.

Even if there is no full-time job available with the initial employer, other employers will look favourably on a candidate who has direct and relevant work experience in their industry; especially one who has already been trained.

Research by the National Apprenticeship Service found that 90% of apprentices stay in employment, with 67% staying with the same employer.


2. Apprenticeships are restricted to those aged 19 or under

Anyone wanting to re-enter the workforce, re-train or upskill can apply for an apprenticeship. There is no upper age limit but it is a particularly popular option for 16 to 19 year olds.


3. Apprenticeships are only available in manual trades

Most industries now offer apprenticeships. It is possible to undertake an apprenticeship in a range of career paths, including business and management, education, and customer service as well as in traditional manual industries (see the section on case studies).

A parent’s checklist

Would your son or daughter prefer to gain hands-on experience rather than go onto academic study? An apprenticeship provides the perfect opportunity for this

Does the apprenticeship role offer the kind of experience your son or daughter is looking for? If not, keep on looking. Apprenticeships are available in a very wide range of industries and with all sorts of employers

What are the training opportunities associated with the post? What qualifications will your child gain? It’s important that an apprentice receives comprehensive training for the job role and completes their apprenticeship with a nationally recognised qualification. This is their currency to move onto full-time employment

What payment is being offered? See section on earnings. The employer involved in any apprenticeship scheme must offer at least £3.90 an hour.

Will the apprenticeship provide what your son or daughter needs to progress in their chosen career? Their chosen career may require more academic qualifications such as A levels or a degree. See section on A levels.

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