What is an apprenticeship?
One of the options open to you after the age of 16 is to train through an apprenticeship, a training programme that combines hands-on experience and learning while being paid a salary.
It is a way of learning the skills necessary for various careers while earning money at the same time. You'll also be entitled to holiday leave and study for at least 20% of your working hours, either at college, university or training provider.
For example, you might work in an entry-level job for four days of the week, and study at an FE college or designated training centre on the fifth day. They usually take one to four years to complete – occasionally five.
You're not guaranteed a job with your apprenticeship provider at the end of your course, but you will have gained both experience and a nationally recognised qualification, which puts you in a great position to find employment elsewhere if necessary.
There is an official national standards for apprenticeships, setting out the level of qualification associated with different levels of apprenticeship.
Employers can claim grants for offering apprenticeships and the system is overseen and regulated by the government.
Who can take an apprenticeship?
To become an apprentice, you must:
- be aged 16 or over
- not already be in full-time education
- live in England.
You can take up an apprenticeship whether you're just starting your career, want a change in direction, or are advancing in your current job.
There is no upper age limit for taking an apprenticeship, although funding arrangements are different if you are over 24.
Apprenticeships embrace fair access, so your age shouldn't affect whether you will get onto one.
What type of apprenticeship can I take?
Most job sectors offer apprenticeship opportunities in the UK, with a wide range of specific roles on offer within each. These include:
- Accounting apprenticeships
- Business apprenticeships e.g. business administration, business development, consultancy and leadership.
- Construction apprenticeships e.g. building, plumbing and quantity surveying.
- Digital apprenticeships - e.g. software development, cybersecurity, website building.
- Engineering apprenticeships e.g. civil engineering, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering.
- Health and Science apprenticeships, e.g. dental and nursing apprenticeships.
- IT apprenticeships in roles such as information security and software development.
- Law apprenticeships offered at paralegal, legal executive or solicitor level.
- Marketing apprenticeships in roles such as digital marketing, social media and public relations (PR)
- Transport and logistics apprenticeships e.g. rail infrastructure operator, cabin crew.
You'll be able to enter your chosen sector at an apprenticeship level that reflects your previous qualifications and the demands of the role.
Many large organisations now offer apprenticeship training schemes, including:
- Rolls Royce
- National Grid
- Goldman Sachs
The type of apprenticeship you can follow will depend on what is available in your local area. Search at the government website for current apprenticeship vacancies in the UK.
What are the different levels of apprenticeship?
There are currently four levels of apprenticeship in the UK:
- Intermediate (Entry Level) - these are level 2 qualifications and are equivalent to GCSE passes at grades A*–C (4–9 on the new system).
- Advanced (Supervisor Level) - these are level 3 qualifications and are equivalent to A level passes.
- Higher (Manager Level) - these lead to level 4 qualfications and above
- Degree - this is a level 6 qualfication or above, and leads to a university degree while you work.
They all involve a work-based learning programme and lead to nationally recognised qualifications.
If you're not sure what the levels mean:
- level 4/5 is equivalent to a higher education certificate, higher education diploma or a foundation degree (the first year of a degree)
- level 6 is equivalent to a bachelor’s degree
- level 7 is equivalent to a master’s degree.
You’ll also need to have a level 2 qualification such as an intermediate apprenticeship or five good GCSE passes (grades A*–C or 4–9).
If you feel you need more skills and experience before starting an apprenticeship, you can find a traineeship instead.
How long does it take to complete an apprenticeship?
Again, this will vary according to the employer, the type of occupation you are training for and the level of apprenticeship, but they normally take between one and four years.
Intermediate level apprenticeships are usually completed in under a year, but the time it takes will depend on your existing knowledge and skills, and the type of apprenticeship you are doing.
The length of time taken to complete your training will also depend on your own skills and ability.
It's worth checking directly with your chosen employer before applying to check how long your course will last, as some won't follow this structure.
What are the benefits of an apprenticeship?
The top benefits of taking an apprenticeship include:
- Learning skills employers want
- Earn a wage while you learn
- Progress at your own pace
- Increase your future potential
- Become more confident
- Expand your network of contacts
- Make new friends
- Get student discounts
- Enter a profession and gain a qualification.
How do I complete an apprenticeship?
To apply for an apprenticeship, you should:
1. Search the Internet for apprenticeship vacancies
2. Meet the minimum entry requirements
This will usually be GCSEs in Maths, English and Science. Some apprenticeships may require minimum grades but others may not, so it's worth checking the exact requirements carefully before applying.
3. Talk about any work experience or traineeships
Mention anything relevant you thnk might help your application. This might be work experience you've completed, or any conferences, workshops or other events you've attended where you learned something. If they're relevant, it's also worth mentioning any hobbies or extracurricular activities you do outside of your studies.
4. Make sure your application is filled out correctly
Check it carefully for spelling and grammar issues, and ask someone else to take a look over it before sending it off. It can be easy to miss any mistakes or forget to add something important.
What will I learn on my apprenticeship?
What you'll learn depends on the role that you're training for. However, apprentices in every role follow an approved study programme, which means you'll gain a nationally-recognised qualification at the end of your apprenticeship.
These qualifications can include:
- Functional skills - GCSE level qualifications in English, Maths and IT.
- National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) - from Level 2 (comparable to five GCSEs) up to Level 5 (similar to a postgraduate degree).
- Technical certificates - such as BTEC, City and Guild Progression Award etc.
- Academic qualifications - including a Higher National Certificate (HNC), Higher National Diploma (HND), foundation degree or the equivalent of a full Bachelors degree.
You'll also be constantly developing your transferable skills, otherwise known as soft skills, which are highly valued by employers. These include:
- problem solving
Where will I learn during my apprenticeship?
This will depend on the organisation employing you.
Sometimes you will spend four days with the employer and attend college for one day a week; sometimes you may do 'block release' where, for example, you may attend college for two or three week 'blocks'.
Larger employers may have their own training centres and use their own training staff instead of colleges.
What are the entry requirements for an apprenticeship?
For a level 2 apprenticeship you may, though not always, need some GCSE subjects at grades A – C (or 9 - 4 in the new grades system).
For a level 3 programme (called an Advanced Apprenticeship) you will normally need five GCSEs, often including English, Science and Mathematics, or have already completed a level 2.
The entry qualifications are generally set by the employer, and some of them may require you to have studied subjects related to their apprenticeship.
What are apprenticeship wages in 2022?
How much you get paid will depend on your employer and your job role, but from April 2022 the national minimum wage rate for apprentices (aged 16 to 18, and those aged 19 or over in their first year) will be £4.81 per hour.
However, some employers pay more than the minimum and the average weekly pay is now about £200.
If you are aged 19 or over and have completed the first 12 months of your apprenticeship, you will be entitled to the national minimum wage rate, which as of April 2022, will be:
- Under 18 - £4.81
- 18 - 20 year olds - £6.83
- 21 - 22 year olds - £9.18
- 23 years+ - £9.50
As an apprentice, will be paid for the following:
- your normal working hours
- training that’s part of your apprenticeship (which has to be at least 20% of your normal working hours)
- study towards English and maths qualifications, if they’re part of your apprenticeship
An employer will often contribute to things like books or special clothing and equipment you need and you are also entitled to paid holidays like other employees.
In most cases the rate of pay will increase as you become more skilled and experienced.
However, these pay rates are only guidelines, and you will find that some employers will pay you a higher wage and spend a longer amount of time training you.
You'll also be entitled to sick pay, any additional benefits your employer offers to its other employees, such as healthcare plans and childcare vouchers, and at least 20 days of paid holiday per year. Use the GOV.UK Holiday Calculator to work out your exact entitlement.
Your normal working hours should be in your employment contract (this might be your apprenticeship agreement).
There are rules about how many hours you work each week and being paid for any overtime.
If you’re studying for English and Maths qualifications which are part of your apprenticeship, your employer should allow you time to study during your normal working hours.
For more information about how much apprentices get paid, please see our apprenticeship wages guide.
How do I choose an apprenticeship?
To choose the right apprenticeship, we recommend you:
1. Look at the different levels
Decide which is the correct one for you. These include: intermediate, advanced, higher and degree apprenticeships.
2. Choose what sector you are interested in
There are many to choose from, so do your homework and see what's out there. After all, you want to do an apprenticeship in an area you actually enjoy.
3. Think about the future
Will this apprenticeship help you get into your chosen career? Where do you want to be in 5 years' time? And will you learn all the skills and knowledge you want to?
What will my working hours be?
Working hours vary depending on your employer, but you won't be able to work more than 40 hours per week or any fewer than 30.
Typically, you'll work between 35 and 37.5 hours per week.
The sector you're entering will determine the nature of your daily working hours - while most apprentices can expect to work a 9am-5.30pm day with an hour's break for lunch, those in hospitality or healthcare roles, for instance, should expect to work antisocial shifts.
Is there an age limit for apprenticeships?
There is no upper age limit on being an apprentice. As long as you're over 16 and have the right credentials, you'll be eligible to apply for your chosen apprenticeship.
If you start your apprenticeship after you turn 19, you may be entitled to additional government funding - find out more about what's on offer at Student Finance England - Advanced Learner Loan.
Are apprenticeships hard?
It's important not to see an apprenticeship as an "easy" option.
Remember that you will be working and studying at the same time, which takes a lot of effort and commitment.
This won't be the right option for everyone, so think carefully about whether you think you can cope with this.
What is an apprenticeship interview like?
To prepare for a successful apprenticeship interview, you should:
1. Research the company and the role
Make sure you do your homework and look at the company's website, as well as what's involved in the apprenticeship. Think about why would be a good fit for the company and what you can bring to the table.
2. Read through your CV and cover letter
Jot down some notes about all your relevant skills and experience so you're ready to talk about them in the interview.
3. Practice, practice, practice
Ask a family member or friend to act as the interviewer and run through some practice questions. This will help you prepare for the real thing, and build your confidence.
4. Dress smart
Remember, first impressions always count! So make sure you wear something smart and appropriate on the day of your interview, turn up on the time, and give honest, clear answers to all their questions.
You should also back everything up with examples to demonstrate you have all the skills and abilities required to perform the role well.
5. Ask them questions too
It's fine to prepare a few questions for the company to ask at the end of the interview, so try to think of some appropriate ones that will allow you to find out more information.
These could be about the position itself, or the company and how it operates, or about future prospects once you have completed the apprenticeship.
What is a degree apprenticeship?
Degree apprenticeships are an opportunity for school and college leavers to get a debt-free, industry-designed degree and leap straight into a career.
They are a relatively new program, where employers partner up with a university, and the apprentice will split their time between working for them, and studying for a degree at the partner university.
Find out more in our degree apprenticeships guide.
What can I do after my apprenticeship?
You may progress to a Higher Level apprenticeship or continue into more highly skilled employment.
If you’re interested in apprenticeships and are planning on taking A levels or equivalent before you start, there are several other options you could consider.
Programmes labelled as school leaver programmes also involve earning and learning; sponsored degrees sometimes do the same, or may involve going to university full time but receiving financial support for your studies.