What you need to know about apprenticeships in the UK
4th June 2014
In her next two blogs Eleanor Bernardes, Associate at LKMco explores a much neglected side of education in the UK: apprenticeships. In this blog she introduces apprenticeships and in her next she turns to the tricky question of picking an apprenticeship.
A very brief history
Apprenticeships go back to the late Middle Ages, when master craftsmen were allowed to employ young people as cheap labour in exchange for food, lodging, and formal training in their craft. Apprentices would often be as young as ten years old, and would live with the master craftsman in their family household hoping to one day become a master of the craft themselves.
Things have changed since then: a modern apprenticeship is a real job (with real pay!) including an element of formal training. Apprentices therefore earn whilst they learn and gain nationally recognised qualifications in the process. Since the recession, as youth unemployment increases and the desire to refocus the economy on manufacturing has mounted, the momentum behind apprenticeships has built and the government has increased the budget that subsidises workplace training by 50%.
What do apprenticeships consist of?
All apprenticeships in the UK consist of several elements which together add up to an apprenticeship ‘framework’. Each apprenticeship Framework is made up of three main components:
1.A competence based element
2.A technical element
3.A skills element
An apprentice should generally participate in paid work for at least 30 hours a week, but the real key to a successful apprenticeship is the quality of the training provided. According to the National Apprenticeship Service, an apprenticeship in any sector must lead to a “national qualification that is respected by employers around the world” such as BTECS, City and Guilds, GCSEs (such as English and Maths) and functional skills. At Higher level (level 4 or above), these qualifications are sometimes recognised as being equal to a degree.
The minimum duration of an apprenticeship is 12 months (although, for apprentices over 19, relevant prior learning can be taken into account and the minimum length can be reduced to no less than 6 months). However, apprenticeships will often take a lot longer than this minimum period, and can actually last between 3 and 4 years, especially at a higher level or in certain sectors such as engineering.
Relationship between employer and Learning Provider
All apprenticeship frameworks are bespoke for the occupational area, the training organisation and the needs of the employer. To make sure that the framework is appropriate for a specific role and reflects a specific learner’s needs, training organisations (or an awarding body) will work closely with employers when they design the programme.
The majority of the training is delivered ‘on-the-job’, working with a mentor. In this way apprentices can understand how their learning applies directly to the workplace. An apprentice will also receive ‘off-the-job’ training, and the delivery of this is tailored to meet an individual programme. For instance, this training could be delivered through a regular session at a college, or through ‘block release’ at an external venue for a set period of time. Some larger employers also run their own training academies which allows them to deliver training sessions at their own locations.
In the UK alone, there are currently over 250 types of apprenticeship covering over 1,500 job roles in a wide range of industries from agriculture and animal care to media and publishing or engineering. In 2012-13 the majority of apprentices were in service industries such as business administration and retail.
There are three different levels of apprenticeship
-An Intermediate Apprenticeship is a Level 2 qualification (and therefore equivalent to GCSE level)
-An Advanced Apprenticeship is a Level 3 qualification (and therefore equivalent to A and AS Levels)
-A Higher Apprenticeship can be taken at either Level 4 or Level 5 (generally considered to be equivalent to Certificates of Higher Education, and Higher National Diplomas (or Foundation Courses) respectively).
The vast majority of apprenticeships in the England are at level two, although over 200,000 Level 3 apprenticeships were started last year. Only 2% of apprenticeship starts in 2012-13 were at Higher Level.
Some students are not ready for an apprenticeship so there is a fourth option: a Traineeship which is aimed just below the Intermediate Apprenticeship. Traineeships are designed to prepare young people for the world of work and can last anything from six weeks to six months with content that is tailored to individual students’ needs. Although Traineeships are not paid, employers are encouraged to provide support with travel and food expenses, and some students may be eligible for financial support through their training provider. There are three core elements of a Traineeship: work preparation training; academic support (such as English and Maths); and a meaningful work experience placement. Following a Traineeship, young people can go on to an Intermediate Apprenticeship, some may also be offered a job with their placement company. A factsheet on Traineeships can be found here.
An apprenticeship can provide a real sense of purpose and opportunity for students who may not have been engaged by the academic route, or who may not have found a sense of belonging there, even if they have achieved good grades. The model of the apprenticeship, with its hands-on learning and integration into the workplace, may suit young people who want to learn through practice or who enjoy working with others and being part of a team.
Eleanor Bernardes, Associate at the Education and Youth think and action-tank LKMco
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(c) Department for Communities and Local Government, flickr
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