Apprenticeship: an earn-as-you-learn qualification

Apprentices can work, train and study at the same time, giving employers the chance to recruit new talent to their businesses. We look at the different types of apprenticeships and how they operate.

Apprentices stand by some machinery
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An apprenticeship is an earn-as-you-learn option for anyone aged 16 and over who is not in fulltime education and is eligible to work in the UK. Apprenticeships are becoming increasingly popular and respected in England as an alternative route to employment for young people. They can also be offered to existing members of staff.Higher or degree apprenticeships are often started following A Levels and so are designed for students aged 18 or over. Apprentices are able to work, study and train at the same time. Employers train individuals in the context of their organisation, so apprentices develop their skills and contribute to the company’s productivity. This means that employers can help attract new talent, reskill existing staff and tackle skills shortages.According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), apprenticeships are an asset to any organisation and bring significant benefits to a business and its existing workforce.

What do apprentices earn?

As employees of the company, apprentices will earn at least the minimum wage, but many employers pay significantly more. Apprentices aged 19 or under, or 19 or over and in the first year of their apprenticeship, are entitled to an hourly rate of £3.30. Apprentices aged 19 or over who have completed the first year of their apprenticeship are entitled to an hourly rate of £6.70. National Minimum Wage rates change every October.
Some employers may provide additional entitlements, such as an annual bonus, paid overtime, or funding for childcare or transport. Apprentices may also be given an allowance for essential books, clothing and equipment, and receive the same benefits as other employees, such as pension contributions, a subsidised canteen or leisure facilities.

Types of apprenticeship

There are four levels of apprenticeship, depending on skills and qualifications:
  • Intermediate (Level 2; similar to studying five GCSEs)
  • Advanced (Level 3; similar to studying two A Levels)
  • Higher (Levels 4–7; similar to studying a Level 4 National Vocational Qualification, a Higher National Diploma or a Foundation Degree)
  • Degree (Levels 6–7; similar to studying for a bachelor’s or master’s degree)
The government is aiming to increase the quality and quantity of apprenticeships in England. According to its report English Apprenticeships: Our 2020 Vision, its goal is for young people to see apprenticeships as a high-quality and prestigious path to successful careers, and for these opportunities to be available across all sectors of the economy, in all parts of the country, and at all levels.In September 2016, Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills in England, recruited 31 new apprentices as part of the government’s drive to create three million apprentices by 2020. The scheme will last for two years, with apprentices completing a Level 2 qualification in their first year and a Level 3 qualification in their second.Apprentices work for around 30 hours a week. Apprenticeships last for a minimum of 12 months, but they can continue for up to four years, depending on previous work experience. Someone who has been in paid employment before starting an apprenticeship may take less time to complete it than someone who is new to an industry.Most of the training is given through the job, with the remainder taking place at college or sometimes through e-learning. All apprenticeships should involve studying towards a nationally recognised qualification. Either at college or remotely at home, apprentices are taught the theory they need to do their job and the information they will need for their exam.One of the main advantages of apprenticeships is gaining a qualification with real-life work experience. There is also a strong possibility that the employer will retain the apprentice as a permanent employee at the end of the apprenticeship.

Why choose an apprenticeship?

Some of the key reasons for choosing an apprenticeship are:
  • To experience a subject area at first hand before committing to a career
  • To avoid accumulating thousands of pounds of debt in student fees
  • To have the opportunity to study for a degree with the employer later on, or even study for a higher or degree apprenticeship
In addition, apprentices may have better long-term salary and career prospects. According to the government’s 2014 Apprenticeship Evaluation survey of learners, around 83 per cent of apprentices believe that their career prospects have improved.Apprentices can finish their training with a variety of national qualifications, including GCSE-level qualifications; NVQs; technical certificates, such as a BTEC; and academic qualifications, such as a Higher National Certificate (HNC) or Diploma (HND), a foundation degree, or a bachelor’s or master’s degree.One of the best places to start is www.findapprenticeship.service.gov.uk/apprenticeshipsearch, a platform for searching and applying for apprenticeships in England.This is a revised version of an article originally published in October 2016.
The Guide to Education & Schools in the UK is designed to help relocating parents make informed education choices.
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  • Parents: Access the free digital guide here or purchase a print copy here
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