What is an Apprenticeship in the UK?

An apprenticeship is a job in which you receive practical training along with a salary. It is a highly beneficial first step on the career ladder with significant long-term benefits. You’ll gain job-specific skills and get paid for your time.

What are the Benefits of an Apprenticeship?

  • Developing job-specific skills that will further your career.
  • Learning from experienced staff in the industry.
  • Getting one day per week to continue your classroom study and further your knowledge.
  • Gaining practical industry experience and understanding the career skills you require.
  • Receiving a salary.
  • Working towards and achieving a formal qualification.
  • The next step: statistics show that 90% of apprentices stay in employment upon completion, with 71% staying at the same employer.

Internship vs Apprenticeship – Similarities and Differences

Internships and apprenticeships are both forms of on-the-job training that will help you become career ready. They are also first steps in building a successful, long-term career, particularly as an effective route into paid employment.

By law, apprentices and interns should be paid. However, the reality is that many internships are on a voluntary basis and interns do not receive a salary. Apprenticeships must be paid the national minimum wage for apprentices.

While both provide industry experiences and expertise, apprenticeship schemes work towards formal qualifications that come under the UK’s national skills framework. They are registered schemes, usually with formal assessments. Internships are more varied, as are the skills they develop.

Apprenticeships typically last from one to three years. Internships can last from one week to one year.

In general, apprenticeships have been favoured for practical vocations, with internships used for office-based white-collar careers. However, this is not a set distinction and there has been an exponential rise in apprenticeships for office based job roles, including software and web developers, accountants and solicitors.

How Much Are Apprentices Paid?

All apprentices are entitled to the national minimum wage for apprentices.

  • Apprentices aged under 19, and anyone in the first year of their apprenticeship, are entitled to £3.70 per hour.
  • Apprentices aged over 25, plus those aged over 19 who have completed their first year, are entitled to the national minimum wage for their age.

Note that these are the minimum requirements. Many employers pay more than this and the exact salary can be negotiated.

Apprentices earnings are taxable but it is unlikely that an apprentice will earn more than the £11,500 threshold for paying basic-rate income tax. Apprentices must also make National Insurance contributions based on their salary.

Under UK law, apprentices must also be paid for their study hours – typically the one day a week at college or university. So you get paid to study.

It’s also worth considering the fees that you don’t have to pay. Training costs are co-funded by the employer and the government. So your college or university fees are paid for, which can mean a saving of up to £9000 per year.

Research also suggests that apprentices will go on to earn over £100,000 more throughout their lifetime over other employees.

Finding an Apprenticeship – Everything You Need

#1 First Steps – Know Your Starting Level

Apprenticeships lead to recognised qualifications. Just like applying for college or university, you must possess the correct entry requirements in order to be considered. Fortunately, intermediate apprenticeships are usually open to anyone aged 16 or over that isn’t in full-time study. So there is a way in for everyone, regardless of qualifications.

Intermediate Level 2

There are usually no entry requirements and these apprenticeships are typically taken up by high school leavers. Completing the apprenticeship leads to a qualification equivalent to 5 GCSE passes at grade A* - C (4 – 9).

Advanced Level 3

Entry requirements vary. Most complete a level 2 qualification before continuing onto the advanced level scheme. You will need at least a GCSE C or 4 in English and Maths. The completed apprenticeship is equivalent to a BTEC National Diploma (Level 3) or 2 A level passes.

Higher – Levels 4 – 5

Leading to a foundation degree, higher apprenticeships can take between one and three years to complete. Starting a higher apprenticeship requires a level 3 qualification, such as two A levels, a NVQ or a BTEC.

Degree – Levels 6 – 7

Complete a degree-level apprenticeship and you’ll leave with a recognised graduate degree (level 6) or masters degree (level 7). This takes one to five years to complete. Some employers offer schemes where apprentices start at level 4 and progress through a foundation degree to a graduate degree. Others require a foundation degree and place apprenticeships directly on a degree-level program.

#2 Career Research

With an apprenticeship you will live and breathe the industry you’re working in. It’s a 40-hour per week commitment that you must continue for one to five years. Once completed you’ll be qualified to work within that specific industry.

One benefit of an internship is the opportunity to try out an industry before starting a career. In comparison, an apprenticeship is the start of your career in a specific industry. So you’re not just choosing what to study, you’re choosing where a career will take you.

Take your time researching:

  • What the industry involves.
  • What the job role involves.
  • Career progression for the job you have chosen.
  • Qualifications and skills required for career progression.

#3 Apprenticeship Research

After you’ve chosen an industry and job it’s time to explore what employers will be wanting from you. Remember, apprenticeships are practical qualifications so employers aren’t necessarily looking for a strong academic background. They want apprentices who are willing to learn and will be committed to the job.

Research the key skills required for the industry and job. Does the job require communication skills? Organisational skills? IT literacy? Practical skills that you have demonstrated through some of your GCSEs?

An apprenticeship in animal care or horticulture is going to require a completely different skill set than one in business administration. So as well as researching skills, think about the passions and interests you need for the job.

#4 Get Yourself Job Ready

Apprenticeships are highly competitive, especially those that lead to degree-level qualifications. They are a huge investment for employers – not only must they pay you, they must train you and pay for your tuition!

Are you worth it? The answer to that is based on your commitment and professionalism. Career ambitions are also important and this ties in with career research. Those who have a clear idea of where they want to go are more employable than those who have applied for an apprenticeship, just because they don’t know what else to do.

Most apprenticeships tie in with the standard college timetable, which means they start in September. That often means you have time to fill before an apprenticeship starts. Showing some initiative will make a great impression, either by getting work experience or attending industry events.

#5 Perfect Your Cover Letter and CV

A professional cover letter and CV is usually the first step in impressing an employer. It should be tailored to the industry and apprenticeship you are applying for, as well as focused on all your advantages.

Cover letters should be concise, detailing what you would like to do and why you are suitable for the apprenticeship. It’s highly recommended that the letter shows your passion for the industry and a commitment to career development.

This article provides the ultimate guide to writing a graduate CV – most of the principles apply to all CVs. These are the sections you should include on an apprenticeship-based CV.

  1. Professional profile – a 3 – 5 sentence profile describing why you want to do the apprenticeship, plus relevant skills, experience and qualifications.
  2. Skills – choose 3 – 5 skills that are relevant to the apprenticeship; provide a description and demonstrative evidence for each.
  3. Education – list your qualifications in reverse chronological order; this section can also be a place show the transferrable skills that you have developed.
  4. Work experience – listing any paid employment will help to show your reliability. However, this section is also beneficial for highlighting transferrable skills. So don’t worry if your work experience is in another industry and focus on the skills that are also relevant to the apprenticeship.
  5. Interests – Include one or two interests that are relevant to the job.

When applying for apprenticeships you can use the same CV and cover letter template. However, you must tailor the CV and cover letter for each application, based on the employer and job research you have done.

#6 Getting Ready For Interview

There are three steps to good interview preparation.

  1. Research the company. Understand what the company does, its values, and its position with wider industry.
  2. Prepare questions to ask your interviewer. Thoughtful questions can leave more of an impression than answers.
  3. Practice answering questions about your skills, strengths, experiences and career ambitions. You can’t predict the exact questions but you can always bring answers around to these topics. And the more you practice answering questions the more confidently you will present yourself.

Employers won’t be looking for strong work experience, but they do want to see your passion and commitment to the role.

Starting Your Career With an Apprenticeship

It’s going to be difficult. There will long hours, lots of work, lots of opportunity and plenty of mistakes. But hey, that’s what a career involves, however you choose to start. It can be tough going from education into a 40-hour a week commitment, especially with all the various stresses and responsibilities that come with working.

There are no quick fixes when it comes to building a career so stay positive, however difficult it may get. The long-term benefits of an apprenticeship are proven and by sticking it out you will be sitting pretty many years from now.

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