Apprenticeship explained

Apprenticeship explained

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 your teenager must be 16 or over, eligible to work in the UK, and not in ful-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. They can learn while they earn and in a way that is best suited to them. As an apprentice they will:

  • earn a salary
  • get paid holidays
  • be paid while attending college
  • receive training and gain qualifications
  • potentially be able to 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.

4. The British Government has set a target of 3 million apprenticeships in England by 2020. This figure will also include Higher and Degree Apprenticeships.

5, Wales has a similar focus on offering apprenticeship opportunities linked to over 150 different types of jobs.

How does it work?

Apprenticeship training can take between one and five 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 workplace and they’ll also spend some time at a local college or another 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 16 or older and no longer in full-time education.  The date on which you can leave school depends on where you live in the UK. 

There is no 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).

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.

Some apprenticeships, such as fast-track apprenticeships in the Civil Service, require your teenager to have been resident in the UK (or elsewhere in the EU currently) for a certain period of time prior to starting their training.

Competition for apprenticeships can be strong, so your teen will need to show that they 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 apprenticeship opportunities exist in a wide range of sectors with employers from large national companies such as Google, Sainsbury’s, the BBC, Unilever, 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.  One of the UK’s largest apprenticeship programme is that offered by the Army to 95% of its new recruits. It’s 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?

A new UK Government organisation, the Institute for Apprenticeships working with key employers, has introduced a newly approved set of standards in April 2017 to replace the previous frameworks.

Assessment at the end of an apprenticeship will test the skills, knowledge and behaviours set out in the standard to assess whether the apprentice is fully competent in that role. Means of assessment could include:

  • written exams
  • interviews or oral assessments on the
  • content of an apprentice portfolio
  • production of a show piece
  • observed practice in the workplace
  • a simulation exercise, if appropriate.

 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 your teenager starts at would depend on their current qualifications and the opportunities available in the sector they are interested in.

  • Intermediate Apprenticeship (Level 2; equivalent to five good GCSE passes):  provides them with the skills and qualifications for their chosen career and allow entry (if desired) to an Advanced Apprenticeship.  To be accepted your child will 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, some industries will require three or more GCSEs and some may want more, whereas other employers don’t specify any formal qualifications. Some may ask for previous experience in the industry or for you to have completed an Intermediate Apprenticeship. This will ensure that your teen has the skills and qualifications needed for their career and allows entry (if desired) to a Higher Apprenticeship or degree level qualification;
  • Higher Apprenticeship (Level 4/5/6/7; equivalent to a Foundation Degree and above): Entry requirements can include at least five GCSEs grades A – C, and Level 3 qualifications, including A levels, NVQ/SVQ Level 3, or a BTEC National. Some will expect or require applicants to have subjects related to the particular apprenticeship to start this programme, you should have a Level 3 qualification (A-Levels, Advanced Diploma or International Baccalaureate) or for you to have completed an Advanced Apprenticeship.

  • Degree (Level 6/7); (equivalent to a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree) Entry requirements can include at least five GCSEs grades A – C, and Level 3 qualifications, including A levels, NVQ/SVQ Level 3, or a BTEC National. Some will expect or require applicants to have subjects related to the particular 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 employees by a college or private training organisation. The training organisations receive their funding direct from the government’s Education and Skills Funding Agency, set up in April 2017 as the successor to the Skills Funding Agency. Some training organisations will subcontract with other organisations to provide some (or all) of their training.

The way apprenticeships are funded has to change as of May 2017. In the past, apprenticeship frameworks were funded at different rates depending on the age of the learner. The new system of funding, which is intended to be simpler, does not differentiate the price an employer pays by age, although in some cases extra funding is available to employers for learners aged 16 to 18.

Employers with a wage bill of more than £3 million now pay an Apprenticeship Levy used to fund apprenticeship training. This levy consists of a 0.5% tax on their wage bill. An employer paying £100,000 in levy could, for instance, claim back £20,000 to pay for a Degree Apprentice whom they would employ themselves. In England, organisations which do not have to pay the levy will still be able to access 90% government support for Apprenticeships through the National Apprenticeship Service. For businesses with fewer than 50 employees, there is no charge if the apprentice is aged 16-18 and extra grants may be available.

At the time of writing, details still need to be confirmed for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For employers in Scotland who already have apprentices, funding will still come via the Education and Skills Funding Agency. The Welsh Government will continue to deliver its Apprenticeship Programme via the Welsh apprenticeship provider network. In Northern Ireland, funding for Apprenticeships training costs are provided by the Department for the Economy (DfE), and an incentive payment is available for employers whose employees successfully complete the Apprenticeships programme at Level 2 and Level 3. 

All training organisations receiving government funding for apprenticeships are inspected by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted). Ofsted publishes the results of the inspections on their website at

Why the detail?

The new arrangements for apprenticeships mean that many employers aren’t yet up to speed and having this information might enable you and your teen to persuade an employer to consider taking them on if you understand the facts and can share them effectively.

Where to find apprenticeships

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 Degree Apprenticeship, or 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 April 2017, all apprentices under 19, or over 19 and in their first year of an apprenticeship, will be paid a minimum of £3.50 per hour and will receive this for the time they spend working, plus the time spent training so that’s £129 a week.

Many apprentices earn significantly more, with the average Apprenticeship wage standing at £257 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 2014, the most recent figures available) illustrates both of these concerns.


Industry Sector









Team Leadership and Management



Health, Social Care &







Customer Service



Hospitality and Catering









Engineering and Related



Business and Related



Construction and Related



Children’s care








Source:  Apprenticeship Pay Survey 2014 (latest figures available at the time of writing, June 2017).

Wage Premium

Research carried out by the Social Market Foundation in 2015 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 web page, 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 web chat, texts and other means of getting in touch as listed on their Contact an Adviser web page for young people.

Remember too, that if they are struggling to identify what they want to do and why career wise, our unique and proven INSPiRED Teenager video programme provides a framework for you and your son or daughter to work through a series of questions and exercises so that they can develop clarity about the future they want.

Key facts about apprenticeships can be found here:

Here are some examples:


Traineeships are for young people who do not have a job and who need to gain experience in the workplace.  They are unpaid work experience programmes for young people who need extra help before moving on to an apprenticeship or employment.  Some employers may offer help with travelling or other expenses. 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.

Here is an example:

TRAINEESHIP in Digital Marketing, London

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., but they do have to 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

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