Apprenticeships explained

Once upon a time, way back when knights were rocking chain mail and dragons were a real estate concern, tradesmen and craftsmen banded together to ensure high standards of quality were met. Folks like carpenters, painters, and cloth makers took on apprentices to pass on their skills. By the time the Tudors were strutting around in their ruffled collars, apprenticeships were seen as an acceptable form of training for young people.

Fast-forward to today. The world—and education, training and employment—have changed, and so too have apprenticeships. These days, they provide an alternative path to education while ensuring that professions and industries have the skilled workers they need.

In this century, apprenticeships have been embraced as a viable alternative to university, and the modern apprenticeship is accessible, flexible and a viable choice for both young people and employers. An apprenticeship could very well be your backstage pass to your dream career.

The basics

An apprenticeship, which must last for a minimum of 12 months, combines hands-on work with the opportunity to train and obtain qualifications. It’s also a paid position, so you earn while you learn. At least 20% of your time is set aside for learning, usually at a college, university or with a training provider.

The rest of your time is spent applying your knowledge and skills in the actual workplace, doing the job that you set out to get. At the end of it, you’ll gain official certification, which will be equivalent to traditional qualifications. Apprenticeship levels are set and equivalent to as follows:

2 (Intermediate): GCSEs

3 (Advanced): A-levels

4 (Higher): foundation degree

5 (Higher): foundation degree/first year of bachelor’s degree

6 (Degree): bachelor’s degree

7 (Degree): master’s degree

Apprenticeships are designed to be flexible. That means that one employer may offer a higher level 6 or 7 apprenticeship without giving you the option of getting an actual degree qualification, while others will.

It’s essential that you check before applying. Employers and training providers will be clear about the qualifications on offer and the level at which you’ll train. It’s up to you to decide if you’re happy with the level of your apprenticeship, and what you get at the end of it.

Many intermediate, advanced, and higher apprenticeships will also give you the opportunity to obtain qualifications such as diplomas in relevant areas.

There is no maximum age limit for an apprenticeship, but they are for those aged 16 or over, living in England and not in full-time education.

Added benefits

As an apprentice, you’ll earn a wage. The current minimum wage rate for an apprentice is £6.40 per hour. This rate applies if you’re under 19, or if you’re aged 19 or over and are in your first year. You must be paid the national minimum wage for your age if you’re an apprentice aged 19 or over and have completed your first year. The national minimum wage is currently set at £8.60 for 18- to-20-year-olds, and £11.44 for those aged 21 and over.

You’ll be paid for your normal working hours and the training that’s part of your apprenticeship, usually one day per week. You’ll also be entitled to the statutory minimum of 20 days of paid holiday per year, plus bank holidays, of which there are usually eight.

These pay rates and holiday entitlements? They’re the minimum. Employers will often set their salaries on offer at higher rates, depending on company policy, in order to make their apprenticeships competitive. Some might have monthly wage structures and others might pay staff weekly.

Many employers also offer additional benefits: things like gym memberships, private healthcare, or wellbeing support. The current minimum age for a workplace pension is 22, but check with the employer when you apply, as they may offer a pension to all of their employees.

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