According to data from the UK Parliament, there were more than 719,000 people participating in an apprenticeship in 2019/20. But what are apprenticeships and who can apply? This guide 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.
It used to be the case that apprenticeships were generally in trades like Construction and Engineering, but now there’s a huge range to choose from - from Floristry to Law.
There are a range of different levels of apprenticeship, to reflect the stage of education that the apprentice has reached. These levels differ subtly depending on where you live. To find out more about how the system works in your area, take a look at our guides on apprenticeship levels in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
In England, there are four levels of apprenticeship:
- Intermediate (Level 2 - equivalent to five GCSE passes)
- Advanced (Level 3 - equivalent to two 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 specific entry requirements, depending on the field of study and the level of the programme. 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 need to choose a standard or framework.
In England, apprenticeships are sorted into standards; in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, frameworks are used. They are essentially the subject area of an apprenticeship. Whereas you might choose to study ‘Business Studies’ at university, for example, you can choose to do an apprenticeship in the standard ‘Business and Administration’.
You can search through hundreds of different standards and frameworks using Unifrog’s Apprenticeships tool. The tool will allow you to sort and rank by criteria such as ‘vacancies available’, ‘salary’ or even ‘happiness’.
After narrowing down your options in a shortlist, the next step is to apply. On the Apprenticeships tool, this can be done by clicking the ‘Apply’ button, which will take you to the relevant website.
Bear in mind that in August 2020, apprenticeship frameworks in England were swapped to standards. The change in name was intended to mark a broader change from qualifications-based apprenticeships to occupation-focused ones. In other words, a framework revolves around gaining certain certificates and qualifications, whereas the aim of a standard is that an apprentice can carry out all aspects of their job. For more information on this, see the links the end of this guide.
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, apprenticeships increase in length, depending on how the apprentice’s time is split.
How much do they pay?
You’re entitled to an apprenticeship rate, if you’re either:
- aged under 19, OR
- aged 19 or over and in the first year of your apprenticeship
The apprenticeship rate is currently £4.30 per hour.
Example: An apprentice aged 22 in the first year of their apprenticeship is entitled to a minimum hourly rate of £4.30.
You’re entitled to the national minimum wage if you are:
- aged 19 or over, AND
- have completed the first year of your apprenticeship
Example: An apprentice aged 22 who has completed the first year of their apprenticeship is entitled to a minimum hourly rate of £8.36.
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.
For more information on the national minimum wage, take a look at the links at the end of this guide. The wages in this guide are the minimum requirement; many employers pay more. If pay is an important factor in your decision, you can use the Unifrog Apprenticeships tool to rank your shortlist in terms of weekly wage.
Good stuff from elsewhere
Apprenticeship frameworks and standards: the main differences
A government page explaining the difference between standards and frameworks.
UK National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage rates
The government webpage on wage rates for different age groups.