An introduction to apprenticeships
Find out what they are, what they pay and who can apply
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 is 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 apprenticeships 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)
Some apprenticeships may award additional qualifications, such as a diploma.
Who can apply?
Anybody who is over the age of 16 can apply (there is no upper age limit), as long as they’re living in the UK and are 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?
- 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’.
(In August 2020, apprenticeship frameworks in England were swapped to standards. The name change 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 at the end of this guide.)
- Make an application.
You can do this using the Apprenticeships tool, where you can simply click the ‘Apply’ button and be taken to the relevant website to start your application.
How long do they take to complete?
Apprenticeships can take between one and five years to complete, depending on the level, the sector, and whether you do it full time or part time.
For example, an Intermediate Level 2 Apprenticeship usually takes around 12 to 18 months and an Advanced Level 3 Apprenticeship around 24 months.
How much do they pay?
You’re entitled to an apprenticeship rate (currently £4.81 per hour) if you’re either:
- aged under 16 to 18, OR
- aged 19 or over and in the first year of your apprenticeship
Example: An apprentice aged 22 in the first year of their apprenticeship is entitled to a minimum hourly rate of £4.81.
You’re entitled to the national minimum wage (which depends on your age) if you are:
- aged 19 or over, AND
- have completed the first year of your apprenticeship
Example: An apprentice aged 21 who has completed the first year of their apprenticeship is entitled to a minimum hourly rate of £9.18.
You’ll be paid for your normal working hours and any training that’s part of your apprenticeship. You’ll also be entitled to at least 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 the weekly wage.
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