What you need to know about Apprenticeships


I was watching the BBC2 documentary series School last night. In this episode, about behaviour, an adult-looking teenage boy had been excluded from school due to repeated terrible behaviour.

The camera met him in his bedroom, where he was playing video games. “What will you do next?” we hear from behind the camera. “Uh, I’m hoping to just get an apprenticeship” he shrugs and replies.

There is a lot going badly in the world of apprenticeships right now, but at the same time, there are a lot of great things going on, which make this kind of attitude really stinky.

Here’s what I’d love for you (yes you!) to know about apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are really great ways to get ahead and it’s not just the 16 year olds who need to know about them. Here’s what I think you should know. They’re not just for kids who don’t like school

They can be tough to get

It’s not a case of “I didn’t do well at school so I’ll just get an apprenticeship”. In order to have an apprenticeship, the first thing someone needs to do is get the job that comes with it. That means that the young man excluded from school above would need to submit his CV (which should list his grades) and take an interview.

I’ve spoken with lots of companies who say that school leavers increasingly don’t have the skills they’re looking for – resilience, good communication, the ability to use their initiative. This is even more so for the apprenticeships in the higher levels, where companies will give more, but equally expect more in return.

Wait, you said levels?

Yeah, apprenticeships come in levels. Every apprenticeship leads to a qualification, and when someone is looking at an aprpenticeship opportunity they should always check what level qualification they’d get at the end. By and large, someone looking for apprenticeships should always level up or take a sideways step. Here’s my overview:

  • Level 2 – equivalent to 5 GCSEs. These are great for people who didn’t do so well in their GCSEs as they give the person another chance to get their English and Maths qualifications. They come in lots of different fields as well. 
  • Level 3 – equivalent to 2 A Levels. Someone who has good GCSEs already can go straight on to a level 3. If they’re under 18, they might be asked to do a level 2 first if the apprenticeship qualification is in something they’ve not studied before (like mechanics, for example) or if the person doesn’t have the social skills or confidence to be able to work a full time job with studies yet. These are still quite plentiful and in a good range of sectors.
  • Level 4 – equivalent to a higher education certificate These are a little rarer. Someone who has good A Levels/Level 3 BTECs/Diploma can go over to apprenticeships at this level, or if they’ve completed a level 3 apprenticeship. I searched for local level 4 apprenticeships in East Anglia the other day, and there seem to be some in construction management and in finance, but the majority of other sectors were in London (Google, for example, had a really nice software development one). Salaries will start improving from this level.
  • Level 5 – equivalent to a foundation degree Much like the above, these tend to be quite rare, and you can find these opportunities in fields where we have skills shortages, like construction, IT and science. When applying to these roles you really have to bring your A game and make sure the application is solid.
  • Level 6 and 7 – degree and masters apprenticeships. This is where the equivalents drop and you start getting the same qualifications. Level 5,6 and 7 apprenticeships are best found on university websites, and you can see what kind of course you’ll be studying alongside your job. 

Who can be an apprentice?

Anyone* over the age of 16. No, really. If you’re sat there in your job wishing that you could get qualifications that back up/add to what you’re doing, then you can have an apprenticeship.

As an adult, you might be able to add an apprenticeship to your current job, or if you’re looking for a change as well, you can apply for a job and maybe ask to study alongside it. One of the most common apprenticeships taken up in the past year has been a management one. On one hand, it’s great to see adults upskilling, but on the other hand I wish they were being used to take on more young people.

*who is able to get a job.

I’m not sure my employer would be up for that…

Is your employer a really big one, with a payroll of over £3 million? Then they are paying The Apprenticeship Levy. It means that if they don’t use money paying apprentices then that money would be given to a pot so that other people in the industry (like their competitors) can hire apprentices. If your employer is a levy payer, here is more information.

If your employer probably isn’t a levy payer, then they would only pay 10% of the cost of your study. Here is more info if this is the case. I’m using the Coventry Uni website for both as they are both quite easy to understand – I am not endorsing their apprenticeships over others.

Aside from money, your employer would have to agree that you can use 20% of your work time studying towards your apprenticeship qualification.

Aren’t apprenticeships just in plumbing and stuff though?

Nope. You can get apprenticeships in pretty much anything these days. From marketing to law, animal styling to construction management, there are so many different things you can do. I would say though that opportunities in areas where skills aren’t so much in demand would be rarer. So, don’t expect to find loads of apprentice roles in photography and journalism for example.

Depending on the sector and the level, the salary would differ as well. A Level 3 business apprentice would probably get the minimum wage of £3.70 an hour, but a degree level apprentice in construction would be getting a very competitive salary.

How do I find out what’s out there?

Courses of apprenticeships are called “standards” and you can have a look at what’s available here. Alternatively, have a search for apprenticeship providers that specialise in your field.

If it’s a young person looking for apprenticeships with jobs already attached, the government apprenticeship website is the best place to look – though it’s not the best website. I recommend browsing and putting in a postcode and searching the categories.

Lastly, should we be looking at these over going to uni?

I am pro apprenticeships and I am pro university. I believe that both are excellent opportunities but sometimes one or the other is better for an individual.

I hope this has been helpful – and that I have maybe changed perceptions on apprenticeships. They’re amazing opportunities for young people and then for not so young people to upskill.

Got anything to add? Let me know in the comments!

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