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Apprenticeships Explained

Apprenticeships ; finding apprenticeships

On this page:
  • Introduction
  • Apprenticeship benefits
  • How does it work?
  • Training Organisations and Funding
  • Traineeships
  • What could an Apprenticeship lead to?
  • Finding an Apprenticeship
  • Find out more
  • Raising the Participation Age (RPA)


If your son or daughter is interested in starting work and they are keen to learn some skills and gain qualifications, then an apprenticeship could be the right option for them.

On an apprenticeship they study for qualifications while working and they learn the skills they need for the job they are doing. To start an apprenticeship you must be 16 or over and not in full time education.  There are three levels of apprenticeships for young people with average GCSE grades through to those with A levels or an Advanced Diploma.

Apprenticeship benefits

There are lots of benefits to doing an apprenticeship. You can learn while you earn and in a way that is best suited to you. As an apprentice you:
  • earn a salary
  • get paid holidays
  • are paid while attending college
  • receive training and gain qualifications
  • can potentially progress to degree level
Apprenticeships are valuable for young people because:

1.  They provide access to real-world practical learning with up-to-date methods and technologies. For some jobs, for example in construction, engineering, hospitality and catering or office administration, real-world practical learning to exacting standards is the only way to learn the necessary skills.

2.  They combine practical (on the job) learning with formal and theoretical learning in further education colleges or private training companies. This dual nature of apprenticeships means young people are able to gain a more expert grasp of their field. In addition, general education can be incorporated into apprenticeships so that gaps in literacy and numeracy skills can be filled.

 3.  They build character and employability skills. As well as providing valuable practical learning opportunities, the introduction to the practices and expectations of a profession or trade builds skills like learning to get on with others, working  in a team, motivating oneself, using initiative and developing self-understanding. This fact is borne out by evidence that there is a wage premium for young people who undertake apprenticeships even if they leave the occupation for which they trained. In other words, apprenticeships build character and the employability skills that constitute the modern ‘transferable skills’ that employers repeatedly state are lacking in young people.

How does it work?

Apprenticeship training can take between one and four years to complete, but the length of an apprenticeship depends on its level, the industry in question and the skills the apprentice already has.

Training takes place in the work place and they’ll also spend some time at a local college or other learning provider. Apprentices are taken on directly by employers and work alongside other employees.

These are real jobs like any other non-apprenticeship job so they have to apply to an employer and compete against other applicants. Entry requirements vary depending on the level of the apprenticeship and the nature of the job.

Who are they for?

To start an apprenticeship you have to be aged 15 or older and no longer in full time education.  School leavers cannot start until after the last Friday in June of the academic year in which they have their 16th birthday.

There is no official upper age limit but government policy means that apprentices who start their training when they are 19 or older attract less funding to cover the training costs (see 'Training Organisations and Funding' below).  In fact,  while the government seem very loath to admit this, it is almost impossible for people over the age of 24 to get an apprenticeship!

People who already have a qualification at level 4 or higher (including NVQ, Dip HE, HNC, HND and degrees) are not eligible for any government funding which effectively rules them out also.

Generally you have to have been resident in the UK (or elsewhere in the EU) for 3 years prior to starting your training although there are some exceptions to this.

Careers Guidance

Competition for apprenticeships can be strong, so you will need to show that you are keen and determined to progress.

Sectors and qualifications

There's a stereotype that apprenticeships are only available in trades like builders or hairdressers, but you can actually find apprenticeships in a wide range of sectors with employers from large national companies such as Sainsbury’s and BMW to smaller local companies.

There are more than 280 different types of apprenticeships in fields ranging from nursing to graphic design and horticulture to electric vehicle engineering.  The UK’s largest apprenticeship programme is that offered by the army to 95% of its new recruits.  Its worth remembering however that most vacancies can be found in business and administration, customer service, IT, child care and hospitality and catering. The right one for your child will depend on their interests, their experience and the opportunities in your area.

What qualifications will they gain?

An apprenticeship is a set of separate qualifications, called a ‘framework’ and they will need to complete all parts to achieve their apprenticeship.

     Apprenticeship Framework
  1. The technical certificate demonstrates achievement of the technical skills, knowledge and understanding related to the wider industry.
  2. The NVQ or competency qualification shows you can perform well in your job or profession .
  3. A range of transferable skills including English, Maths, ICT, working with others, improving own learning and problem solving. These are sometimes called key skills or functional skills.
  4. Employer Rights and Responsibilities (ERR) demonstrate that you know and understand areas such as employment related legislation and Health and Safety. 

What level of apprenticeship could they study?

There are three levels of apprenticeship available, what level you start at would depend on your current qualifications and the opportunities available in the sector you are interested in.
  • Intermediate Apprenticeship (Level 2; equivalent to five good GCSE passes) :  provides you with the skills and qualifications for your chosen career and allow entry (if desired) to an Advanced Apprenticeship.  To be accepted you need to be enthusiastic,  keen to learn and have a reasonable standard of education ; 
  • Advanced Apprenticeship (Level 3; equivalent to two A-level passes) : to start this programme, you should have five GCSEs (grade A*-C) or have completed an Intermediate Apprenticeship. This will provide you with the skills and qualifications you need for your career and allow entry (if desired) to a Higher Apprenticeship or degree level qualification ;
  • Higher Apprenticeship (Level 4/5; equivalent to a Foundation Degree) : to start this programme, you should have a Level 3 qualification (A-Levels, Advanced Diploma or International Baccalaureate) or have completed an Advanced Apprenticeship.
For more on levels see the Qualifications Explained article.

Training Organisations and Funding

A small number of larger employers will provide all of the training in-house but the great majority of apprenticeships are organised for the employers by a college or private training organisation. The training organisations receive their funding direct from the government’s Skills Funding Agency. Some training organisations will subcontract with other organisations to provide some (or all) of their training.

 The amount of government funding for an apprenticeship depends on the age of the apprentice. The following table summarises the proportion of funding available for different age groups.

Age of apprenticeProportion of funding available for training
16 to 18100% of course fees
19 to 2350% of course fees
24 and over40% of course fees
For apprentices who are 19 or older the shortfall has to be made up by the employer, the apprentice or a combination of the two.  All training organisations receiving government funding for apprenticeships are inspected by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted). Ofsted publish the results of the inspections on their website at

Use this site to find contact details for training organisations within particular industry sectors and geographical locations:

What could an Apprenticeship lead to?

At the end of an apprenticeship most apprentices are kept on by their employer as they have invested a great deal in their training.  It is only fair to note however that this is not guaranteed.

Apprenticeships can be demanding but they are also very rewarding. They train you in the skills employers want so they give you choices in your career.  It is possible to move on to the next level of apprenticeship and those who have completed an  Advanced or Higher level apprenticeship could move on to Higher Education and study for a Foundation Degree, an HND or other higher level qualification, including a normal degree.

Finding an Apprenticeship

Go to this separate article to find out how to search for suitable apprenticeships and make applications.

Earning while you are learning

Apprentices do real jobs in the real working world. So they are paid while they learn. They may also get additional money for essential books, clothing or equipment.  However, If a 16 to 19-year-old stays in education, their family can continue to claim child benefit and tax credits (if they qualify) for them. But if that same young person takes up an apprenticeship instead, they are counted as being in work and their family can no longer claim benefits on their behalf.

Pay Rates

From October 2015 all apprentices under 19 or in their first year of an apprenticeship will be paid a minimum of £3.30 per hour and will receive this for the time they spend working, plus the time spent training so that’s £122 a week.

Many apprentices earn significantly more, with the average Apprenticeship wage standing at £170 per week. If you’re 19 or over and past your first year you get the rate that applies to your age - check what that is here.

Having said that, it is important to understand that there are big variations in the actual salaries paid depending on the industry sector, the geographical region and the skill level of the apprenticeship concerned.  There is also a long-standing problem with apprentices not being paid the minimum rate they should by many employers.

The table below (based on a government survey from 2012) illustrates both of these concerns.

Industry SectorGross Pay (hourly)Paid less than minimum (%)
Team Leadership and Management£7.843
Customer Service£6.8013
Health and Social Care£6.5017
Business Administration£6.0223
Hospitality and Catering£6.1116
Children’s Care, Learning and Development£5.1430

Wage Premium

Research by the Social Market Foundation shows that former apprentices can earn more than similar employees who have not done an apprenticeship. This "wage premium" varies a lot between different kinds of apprenticeship. Level 3 apprenticeships provide much higher returns than the Level 2 Intermediate kind.  The researchers found that:
  1. Holders of level 3 apprenticeships earned 20% more per week compared to similar employees who only had level 2 qualifications.
  2. Even compared to those who have some other type of level 3 qualification there is a “wage premium” of 11% per week.
  3. The wage premium varies between different job sectors. The figures above are averages. The sectors which provide the biggest gains are manufacturing, construction and wholesale/retail. Health and social care provides no gain at all.

Find out more...

If your daughter or son has a query about apprenticeships they can find out more from the .Gov Apprenticeship webpage, ask a careers adviser who comes into their school or speak to a careers adviser from the National Careers Service on 0800 100 900. The National Careers Service also offer webchat, texts and other means of getting in touch as listed on their Contact an Adviser webpage for young people.


Traineeships are for young people who do not have a job and who need to gain experience in the work place.  They are unpaid work experience programmes  for young people  who need extra help before moving on to an apprenticeship or employment.  Traineeships are aimed at young people aged 16-24 with limited exam results who have the potential (given the right support) to succeed in an apprenticeship.

They last anything from six weeks to a maximum of six months with the content tailored to the needs of the individual trainee.

You can find out more in the 'Foundation Learning' article.

Job Search

Raising the Participation Age (RPA)

The Government has made changes to the law concerning the age that young people in England must continue in education or training.  The law now says that they must stay in education or training until at least their 18th birthday.
    This does not mean that young people must stay in school. They can choose from the following options:

    • full-time education (eg school or college)
    • home education
    • an Apprenticeship
    • a Traineeship
    • full-time employment or volunteering, combined with part-time education or training

    Further reading:
    Foundation Learning and Traineeships Explained
    A Guide to Apprenticeships (UK government)
    Qualifications Explained