17th June 2014
In her first blog on apprenticeships, Eleanor Bernardes, Associate at LKMco, explained what you need to know about apprenticeships. In this new blog, she sets out some of the factors to take into account when considering whether to start an apprenticeship.
Is it a positive choice?
In the UK it is a common (though rapidly disappearing) misconception that apprenticeships are just for underachievers. But to complete an apprenticeship successfully, young people need drive, determination and ambition (much the same as in more traditional academic courses). And because they are working in an actual role, for an actual business, they also learn valuable lessons about what it is to have a job and have people relying on them. One famous former apprentice – Sir Alex Ferguson – argues that an apprenticeship made his previous schooling more relevant because it helped him to contextualize knowledge that he had already learned.
Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics reveal that “tens of thousands of university graduates are earning less than school leavers taking apprenticeships”. But drilling down into the numbers reveals a complex picture:
- Last year, 26% of relatively low paid graduates worked in part time roles compared with only 11% of apprentices
- However, 73% of graduates earned more than the average wage enjoyed by apprentices
In comparison with other vocational options, it is generally accepted that apprenticeships fare well. For example, a 2013 CEBR report found that students completing a Level 4 Higher Apprenticeship (as opposed to other vocational qualifications) improve their earning potential by an average of £150,000 over their career. The report highlights that this is similar to the earnings advantage that a graduate is normally seen to have over a non-graduate.
How do you pick an apprenticeship?
Given this mixed evidence, what is crucial is that students pick the right apprenticeship. In addition to picking the Framework (the ‘type’ of Apprenticeship – rather like choosing a subject to study at university), students need to consider the :
-Level of apprenticeship
-Type of employer
-Quality of training
Picking a level
The level of apprenticeship a student can aim for will generally depend on their prior qualifications although some employers and training providers are flexible if a young person performs well in other general assessment measurements, and/or has prior experience in the area. Requirements are generally as follows:
- Intermediate Apprenticeship: a number (usually 5) of GCSEs at grade A*-C, ideally (but not essentially) including English and Maths.
- Advanced Apprenticeship: at least 5 GCSEs at grades A*-C including English and Maths, and some employers will also prefer you to have some type of Level 3 qualification (such as a BTEC or A/AS Level)
- Higher Apprenticeship: 5 GCSEs (at A*-C, including English and Maths) and good results at post 16 (such as A levels, BTECs, Advanced Apprenticeship, etc)
Picking an employer
Students should consider what sort of working environment they would thrive in. A small company could offer a sense of security because of its intimate size, but a large company with more established systems could also offer a helpful feeling of structure.
Different types of employer will have developed different ways of working with both the training provider and the apprentices themselves. Big employers are likely to hire more apprentices, and will have a history of running apprenticeship programmes, in some cases including their own training academies. Smaller employers might only have one or two apprentices and there is always a chance that a young person might be the ‘apprenticeship pioneer’ in a company. In this case, the student will need to be confident that they have the resilience and determination to succeed even if the situation becomes challenging at times.
The final thing to bear in mind about employers is that although they must all pay apprentices a minimum wage (which is not always the same as the national minimum wage), some employers will increase an apprentice’s wage as their skills increase. The average net pay that an apprentice now earns is £200 per week, but what employers pay their apprentices can vary widely.
To help ensure that students enter into applications with their eyes open, Unifrog shows students detail on the employers hosting the Vacancies on students’ Shortlists.
Quality of training
The government and the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) have specified standards for Apprenticeship frameworks in England. Their Quality Statements (found here) include:
The minimum hours of employment for Apprentices
Duration of the apprenticeship
English and Maths requirements
New learning and skills expectations
In addition to this, just like in school-based qualifications, Ofsted is responsible for the external quality of apprenticeships. Their reports on ensuring quality can be found here, and the most recent Ofsted reports for individual training providers (including their apprenticeship programmes) can be found here. Unifrog shows students the Ofsted rating for each Learning Provider a student is considering, and even allows students to download the relevant Ofsted reports.
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You might also like:
Interview with Eugene: why I chose an apprenticeship
Is 'Vocational' still a dirty word?
What you need to know about apprenticeships in the UK
(c) Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, flickr