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Apprenticeships in the UK

Apprenticeships are a good way to gain the skills and experience needed to get into many careers. They combine work, training, and study, letting you 'earn while you learn'.
Relevant to
  • There is a wide range of apprenticeships for over 1,500 job roles — giving you the opportunity to enter careers in anything from engineering and boat building, to veterinary nursing and accountancy.
  • You'll need to be over 16 years old, and show you have the ability to complete the programme.
  • An apprenticeship usually takes one to three years to complete, and is usually made up of three parts – all completed on the job, online, or in a classroom.

Depending on your skills and qualifications, there are four different levels available:

  • intermediate (Level 2) — generally considered to be the same level as five GCSE passes/standard grades/National 4s and 5s
  • advanced (Level 3) — generally considered to be the same level as two A levels/Highers
  • higher/technical (Levels 4 to 7) — can lead to NVQ Level 4 and above, or a foundation degree
  • degree/graduate-level (Levels 5 to 7) — these are new and enable apprentices to achieve a full bachelor’s or master’s degree as part of their apprenticeship

What's available?

Do your research!

  • Check out the range and number of vacancies being advertised in the area(s) you're interested in. Check on a regular basis so you can get an idea of the availability of opportunities relevant to your interests.
  • What is the timeframe from the vacancy being advertised to the application deadline and apprenticeship start date? This will give you an idea of how you need to prepare, and how quickly you will need to apply.

Competition for apprenticeships can be tough — partly because there are often only a limited number of vacancies available, particularly on higher and the new degree level apprenticeships, but also because school/college leavers and adults already in employment will be able to apply to them too. Employers may also be considering applications from existing employees, who may be applying for apprenticeships for the career progression opportunities they can offer.

Check out your regional apprenticeship organisation to see what's available:

Find apprenticeship vacancies


Who will apprenticeships suit?

Higher and degree level apprenticeships will suit someone who:

  • has a clear idea of the type of career they wish to pursue and is willing to commit to a vocational pathway
  • wishes to continue with higher education level study, but would prefer a more practical and work-related approach to study
  • is ready to start work with an employer and be based in the workplace the majority of the time
  • is well organised and able to cope with the competing demands of work and academic study at the same time
  • is ready to be assessed through a mix of assignments and written work, including essays, reports, practical exercises, end tests, and exams

An apprenticeship is not an easy option. You’ll be starting a challenging job and trying to prove yourself in the workplace, while getting to grips with studying for a higher or degree level qualification. You’ll be expected to achieve academically and at work, managing your time and adjusting to longer hours, with fewer holidays than at school, college, or university. You might have to travel or relocate to find the right opportunity for you.

International students

Some employers and training providers may accept applications from international applicants. However, because apprenticeships are primarily focused on the job and employment, any international applicant must be eligible to work in the UK, as well as have the necessary visas, etc. International applicants will need to look at the details of each apprenticeship vacancy and contact the university/college and employer to check their eligibility criteria.


What's involved?

  • You’ll spend most of the week at work (a minimum of 30 hours) where you will focus on learning to do the job. You could be learning from colleagues across all levels of the business, typically working closely with someone more senior who will coach you and review your progress.
  • You’ll also spend time attending college, university, or training provider, or training at work.
  • The learning and part-time study element of an apprenticeship fits around the job commitment and will be agreed with the employer. You might attend one day per week (‘day release’), in blocks of a week or more (‘block release’), or study online. Some schemes use a combination of options.
  • Apprentices complete assessments during and at the end of the programme, which tests both academic learning and occupational competence developed through on-the-job training.
  • You can find details of what you will learn in the standard or framework for each apprenticeship, and how your learning and skills will be assessed in the assessment plan for your particular apprenticeship.


Advantages and disadvantages

Pros Cons
Apprenticeships offer a direct alternative to full-time higher education for those who would prefer to start employment. It can be difficult to balance academic study with work commitments — you need to be well organised!
You can earn a wage while completing a higher education qualification, and you won't have to pay tuition or course fees. Although you will study a higher education qualification, your experience of student life will be limited compared to those attending full-time courses at university or college.
You will gain real knowledge, skills, and experience required for specific careers, and possibly professional accreditation. You need to have a clear idea of the type of career you wish to pursue, as this is a vocational qualification.
Your investment in high level training and study can provide a long term career path and increase your earning potential. There is the possibility you may have to pay back your course fees if you decide to leave your apprenticeship early.
Your work experience, transferable skills, and high level qualifications may leave you well placed to obtain employment in a number of related careers. The initial apprenticeship wage you start on may be quite low compared to other employment, and you'll need to cover your day-to-day living costs, rent, travel costs, equipment, and materials. Tax and National Insurance contributions will come out of your salary.

Entry requirements

Degree/graduate-level apprenticeships can require at least five GCSEs grades A — C/National 4s or 5s, and Level 3 qualifications, including A levels/Highers, NVQ/SVQ Level 3, or a BTEC National. Some employers have specific entry requirements, and this is particularly the case for degree apprenticeships. For example, recent IT degree apprenticeship adverts have required an A level (or equivalent) grade range of ABB to CCC.

Higher/technical apprenticeships have similar entry requirements. Some industries want apprentices who have three or more GCSEs/National 4s or 5s or above, but other employers don’t specify any formal qualifications. Some may ask for previous experience in the industry.

Each apprenticeship vacancy listing will identify the entry requirements and the qualities the employer is looking for.

Find out more about entry requirements for apprenticeships


Finance and funding

If you’re aged between 16 and 24, your employer and the government will meet the tuition fees of your apprenticeship. As an employee, you will be paid a salary by your employer. This means graduate apprentices can be debt-free. You will need to cover your day-to-day living costs, rent, travel costs, equipment, and materials. Apprentices are not eligible for student loans.

Salary

Those aged 16 — 19 in the first year of their apprenticeship receive at least the minimum apprenticeship wage of £3.30 per hour. Some employers pay significantly more than this rate, and there are examples of both higher and degree apprenticeship adverts offering salaries of between £16,000 and £24,000 per year.

Many employers advertise roles with a ‘competitive salary’. This could mean the salary and benefits will be in line with similar roles for other organisations, or that it depends on your current skills and experience. It is important that you confirm the salary with the employer.

Other financial benefits

Alongside the salary, some employers offer other benefits including a pension, access to a car, leisure facilities, or a relocation allowance if you have to move.

Discounts for apprentices

You’ll be classed as an employee, rather than a student, so you won’t be entitled to student discounts, but the National Union of Students (NUS) offers an NUS Apprentice Extra Card. For £11 per year, you can get discounts on lots of brands – see more at www.apprenticeextra.co.uk. You may also be eligible for discounts on public transport, with many schemes running on a local basis, like the Apprentice Oyster photo card in London, which gives apprentices 30% off certain journeys.


Terms and conditions

Your employer and university, college, or training provider will set out details of what they expect from an apprentice, both as an employee and as a student. Apprentices have the same rights as other employees and are entitled to a contract of employment and a minimum of 20 days of paid leave per year, as well as bank holidays. They work at least 30 hours per week with their employer, and undertake part-time study through a mixture of day/block release, distance, and e-learning.

If you're unsure what your terms and conditions mean, it's a good idea to talk them through with a teacher or careers adviser.