What is an apprenticeship?

One of the options open to you after the age of 16 is to train through an apprenticeship.

This is a way of learning the skills necessary for various careers while earning at the same time.

An apprenticeship will often suit young people who do not want to go into full-time further or higher education, but still want to gain extra qualifications that are work related.

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 framework 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.

What type of apprenticeship can I take?

There are more than 190 different occupations in which you can train through an apprenticeship, from animal care to building trades, from administration to catering.

Most job sectors offer apprenticeship opportunities in the UK, with a wide range of specific roles on offer within each. These include:

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:

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.

Most apprenticeships work towards nationally-recognised qualifications called NVQs and you will often also gain BTEC or City & Guilds qualifications.

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.

To get onto a higher apprenticeship or degree apprenticeship you’ll normally need a level 3 qualification such as an advanced apprenticeship, A levels or NVQ level 3. 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).

What will I learn?

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:

  • communication
  • teamwork
  • organisation
  • leadership
  • problem solving
  • IT
  • mathematics.

Where will I learn?

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.

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 will I earn?

There is no single rate of pay for an Apprentice. It will depend on your employer and your job role, but from April 2020 the national minimum wage rate for apprentices (aged 16 to 18, and those aged 19 or over in their first year) will be £4.15 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 2020, will be:

  • 18 - 20 year olds - £6.45
  • 21 - 24 year olds - £8.20
  • 25 years+ - £8.72

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.

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.

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.

What can I do afterwards?

You may progress to a Higher Level apprenticeship or continue into more highly skilled employment.

After an Advanced apprenticeship, depending on the qualifications gained, it may be possible to move into higher education or on to a Degree apprenticeship.

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.

Further information

For more tips and advice on applying for apprenticeships, please see: