Apprenticeships are becoming an increasingly popular choice with school leavers, but what are they and who can apply? This article will help you get to grips with the basics.
What is an apprenticeship?
An apprenticeship is a job in training. It allows you to gain a qualification, new skills and valuable experience – all whilst earning a wage.
There’s a huge range to choose from. It used to be the case that apprenticeships were generally in trades like construction and engineering, but now they’re in any type of work, so you can work in anything from floristry to aerospace engineering.
Because different jobs need different qualifications, there are a number of options available. In England, there are 4 levels:
- Intermediate (Level 2 – equivalent to 5 GCSE passes)
- Advanced (Level 3 – equivalent to 2 A level passes)
- Higher (Levels 4,5,6 and 7 – equivalent to a foundation degree)
- Degree (Levels 6 and 7 – equivalent to a bachelor’s or master’s degree)
Who can apply?
Anybody who is over the age of 16 can apply (there is no upper age limit), as long as they’re not in full-time education.
However, each apprenticeship has its own entry requirements. For example, some Intermediate apprenticeships only need the applicant to show they’re willing and able to complete the programme. A Higher apprenticeship, however, may ask for GCSEs and Level 3 qualifications, such as A Levels.
How do I apply?
First, you must choose a framework. An apprenticeship framework is similar to a university subject, in that it tells you what you will study. Similar to how a university student might study the subject of Computing, for example, an apprentice might study the framework of Information Technology (IT).
Once you've chosen your framework, you can look for suitable apprenticeships through gov.uk or Unifrog, and then apply. On Unifrog, this can be done by clicking the green Apply button, which will take you to the relevant website.
Worth knowing: Apprenticeship ‘frameworks’ are being phased out and will be replaced with ‘standards’ by 2020. For more information on why this is happening, click here. For a full list of which frameworks that will be withdrawn and when, click here. For a full list of the apprenticeship standards that have been approved to date, click here.
How long do they take to complete?
Each apprenticeship is different – they vary in length. An apprenticeship can take between one and four years to complete, depending on the level of the programme, the apprentice's ability and the industry sector.
For example, an Intermediate Level 2 Apprenticeship usually takes around 12 to 18 months and an Advanced Level 3 Apprenticeship around 24 months.
If taken part-time, they obviously increase in length, depending on how the apprentice’s time is split.
How much do they pay?
An apprentice is entitled to the ‘apprentice rate’ if they’re either:
- Aged under 19, OR
- Aged 19 or over and in the first year of their apprenticeship
The apprentice rate is currently £3.90 per hour.
For example: An apprentice aged 22 in the first year of their apprenticeship is entitled to a minimum hourly rate of £3.90.
An apprentice is entitled to the national minimum wage for their age if they both:
- Are aged 19 or over, AND
- Have completed the first year of their apprenticeship
For example: An apprentice aged 22 who has completed the first year of their apprenticeship is entitled to a minimum hourly rate of £7.70.
You’ll be paid for your normal working hours and any training that’s part of your apprenticeship. You’ll also be entitled to 20 paid holiday days per year, plus bank holidays.
Good to know: Although these rates might seem quite low, employers often pay more than the national minimum wage and trade unions often push for employers to pay over and above the apprentice rate too. At the time of writing, an Intermediate (Level 2) Apprenticeship in Finance is listed on Unifrog that pays £306 per week (roughly £8.16 per hour) and an Intermediate Apprenticeship in Highway Maintenance that pays £350 per week (roughly 9.33 per hour). If the rate of pay is an important factor in your decision, you can use the Unifrog Apprenticeships tool to rank your shortlist in terms of weekly wage.