Slowly but surely apprenticeships are becoming an increasingly popular option for students looking at their post-school options. University is no longer taken for granted as the ‘best’ route.

But recognising that apprenticeships are a good option is just the first step: you have to find out whether an apprenticeship will really work for you, and then you have to go about finding and successfully applying for one. This blog post sets out some of the key things to consider and do in order to successfully navigate your way to a great apprenticeship.

Why are apprenticeships becoming such a popular option?

  • People now see that uni has its downsides:
    • it does not guarantee a successful career
    • it is expensive – both in terms of money, with the average debt at the end being £43,000, and in terms of time (3 years is a long old time!)
    • you are not guaranteed to have a good time while you are there.
  • More and more high-prestige firms are embracing apprenticeships: from the ‘big four’ accounting firms (PwC, EY, Deloitte and KPMG) to other famous brands such as JP Morgan, Google, IBM, BAE and Jaguar Land, as well as the NHS, charities and fast-growth businesses, more and more employers are using apprenticeships.
  • While the ‘earn while you learn’ message has always been powerful and exciting for many, it has particular resonance in a cost-of-living crisis when everyone is questioning every area of spend in their lives.

So, having decided that you want to look at apprenticeships, what are the next steps? There are five things you need to do:

  1. get buy-in from those around you
  2. figure out if you are ready
  3. understand three key things about the choice you are about to make
  4. work out what apprenticeships you might want to do
  5. prepare yourself for the application process.

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

  1. Buy-in from those around you

Even if an apprenticeship is right for you, there may well be many people close to you who are sceptical or even hostile about apprenticeships. They could be your parents, members of your community, your teachers or your friends. They may have other views about what you ‘should’ do. Take time to tell them more about apprenticeships, explaining why they are such a good option and why they might be right for you. It will help to have their support as you embark on your journey.

  1. Figure out if you are ready

In my upcoming guidebook, Understanding Apprenticeships: A Student’s Guide, several of the apprentices featured in the case studies say how daunting it was to enter the world of work immediately after school. For them, that feeling soon turned to excitement and enjoyment as they settled into their working life as an apprentice. But it is worth asking yourself whether you are mature enough yet to manage the world of work, while also needing to undertake the study part of your apprenticeship, and all the pressures that come with it.

  1. Understand these three things

There are three things you should know as you approach this decision about what to do.

  • No decision is forever – whatever you choose to do now does not stop you from making other choices in the future. You are allowed to change your mind and it is totally acceptable to do so! If you choose to do an apprenticeship now, you can choose to go to university later. If you choose an apprenticeship in one occupation, you can change job afterwards (or even during it!) If you choose to work for one kind of organisation now, you are not somehow stuck with it forever. The ‘zigzag’ career is now way more common than the ‘job for life’.
  • There is no ‘magical gateway’ – often young people are given the impression that if only they succeed in their GCSEs/A levels/Uni (delete as appropriate!) then the whole world will open up before them; the converse is implied too as a way of getting you to do some work before those dreaded exams. It just isn’t true! The good news, or bad news depending on your perspective, is that you need to keep on working, keep on learning and keep on trying your best throughout your working life (that is part of the fun!)
  • Your decision-making process should, in the end, be yours and yours alone – only you will live with the consequences of whatever choice you make. And do not be fooled into thinking that it is a purely ‘rational’ decision. Yes, you absolutely need to do your research and systematically weigh up your options, but ultimately it is likely that your decision will be a ‘gut feeling’ – and that’s okay: that’s actually how most human beings make most decisions.
  1. Work out what apprenticeships you might want to do

There are over 600 apprenticeships that you could do, with more being added all the time to keep pace with the ever-changing needs of the economy. How many of these are you aware of? Go to the Institute of Apprenticeships website and have a look at the Occupational Maps ( to see just how many there are and how they might fit together.

Then think about two things. First, think about (and write down) what your aspirations are for your life. (Do you want to earn tons of money? Do you want a settled family life? Do you want a job that allows you a routine or that is different every day?) Secondly, think about what you enjoy doing. (Do you like organising things? Do you like working with tools? Do you like communicating? Do you like to be creative?) The trick is then to evaluate the hundreds of options available by comparing them to your aspirations and what you enjoy doing.

Sadly, there is no magic formula or algorithm that can take your aspirations and preferences and point you directly to the ‘right’ apprenticeship path – but you are very unlikely to find the right apprenticeship path if you don’t consider these two things.

  1. Prepare yourself for the application process

Although UCAS now includes apprenticeship options alongside university applications, the truth is – because each and every employer wants to find the right person for them – that applying for apprenticeships is more complicated than applying for university (a lot more!) So you need to be prepared. You should have a system for finding those apprenticeships that you both want to do and can physically get to. You should have a system for tracking your applications. And you need to be ready for the application process itself: you will need a ‘story’ for each apprenticeship (why you want it, why you are a good candidate for it) and you will need to be ready for telephone interviews, face-to-face interviews and maybe even in-depth assessment centres (slightly scary but also slightly fun). And you need to be able to respond to whatever the outcome is in a way that is positive.

Good luck – not that you’ll need any luck if you are fully prepared!

Understanding Apprenticeships


Interested in finding out more? Discover the essential apprenticeship handbook from Ben Rowland, Understanding Apprenticeships, coming 15 September.