We’ve heard that apprenticeships are a chance to ‘earn while you learn’, but it might appeal more if we described them as opportunities to ‘learn while you earn’ as an apprenticeship is essentially a paid job with compulsory training, learning and nationally-recognised qualifications attached.

An apprenticeship can include a level 2 or 3 qualification, equivalent to GCSEs and A-levels, but also a full degree or professional qualification. The choice is huge and growing all the time. Here’s an overview …

How is an apprenticeship different to a regular job?

Compulsory learning – There are two parties to a typical job, the employer and employee and inevitably you will benefit from work-based, employer-led training.

However, there are three parties involved in an apprenticeship – the employer, the employee (you) and a trainer. The trainer usually works for a college or independent training company and will ensure you are learning and on-track to complete your qualifications.

The trainer may come to your place of work, deliver learning online, or invite you to their study centre with other apprentices. This can be one day a week – sometimes more – and you can find out how this works when you apply. However, before you apply, check if you need to travel to a study centre as this may affect your ability to do the apprenticeship even if the employer is accessible.

Minimum pay scales – There are minimum pay guidelines on the Government’s National Minimum Wage and Living Wage website. And for the first year of your apprenticeship – or if you are under the age of 19 – you are entitled to a minimum of £3.70 per hour. However, employers have the flexibility to pay more, and many vacancies are offering well above this to attract the right candidates.

Short-term contract – An apprenticeship is for a fixed period. The duration is published in the advert and at the end you may have experience and a qualification, but not have a job offered. However, most employers seem to advertise a vacancy with the potential to be considered for full-time employment after the apprenticeship. Take a look when applying so you know what the expectations are. At the very least, the experience will give you a fantastic stepping stone either onto another apprenticeship or, if you are 18 and over, into full-time employment elsewhere.

Where can you find apprenticeship vacancies?

Local vacancies – These are advertised very simply for you on Careersnearhere – they are pre-filtered under the relevant career sectors and they are all local, as the employer must be in a BS or BA postcode. You can then filter by apprenticeship level, but we would encourage you to keep your options open as many lower level apprenticeships are advertised with a clear onward path to Higher apprenticeships – worth a look.

Nationally – Most apprenticeship vacancies around the country tend to be advertised on the Government’s Find an Apprenticeship webpage and filters include reference number, description, disability confident, level, key word, date published, nearest, and postcode. However, not everything is on there and you may need to look on the websites of individual employers, and/or relevant training providers, to find specific vacancies.

UCAS – The University and College Admissions Service – now also list some of the Higher and Degree apprenticeships. There is also a list published periodically on the Government’s website. And you may find some on the websites of national apprenticeship advertising agencies.

Who might benefit from an apprenticeship?

Don’t want to go into sixth form – Try as we might, there will always be those who – for multiple and often complex reasons – do not want to keep studying full-time. Once they have finished year 11, an apprenticeship could well offer the right balance of work and study until they can apply for a full-time job at 18.

Unlikely to pass Maths and English exams – Whether you want to stay on in sixth form or not, you will need to pass these exams and a level 2 vacancy will usually offer functional skills training alongside your apprenticeship to help you achieve these.

Don’t want to go to Uni – It’s not compulsory to go on to Uni after sixth form, even if you apply via UCAS alongside everyone else. Better to realise before you start than once you are there, but there are plenty of amazing apprenticeships with qualifications and training attached which could help get you started on the career path of choice without going to Uni.

Want a degree, but not the student loan – The Higher and Degree apprenticeships offer level 4 and above qualifications, which can include an HND, Foundation degree or Bachelor’s degree from a university. You won’t incur any course fees or need to take out student loans, but it can take slightly longer to graduate as you will be working as well as expected to study.

Want to specialise – Some of the apprenticeships award a professional qualification as well as – or instead of a more general one. The main examples are in accountancy where you can expect to achieve a professional accountancy qualification as part of the apprenticeship – appropriate to the level you are applying for. This means you may be able to qualify earlier than other routes, but you will be very specialist so explore this alongside your other options.

Dispelling some of the myths

Not a second-rate option – In fact, they can be a very demanding alternative to Uni incorporating a paid job with qualifications and a lot of work.

Opportunities afterwards – There is also a very high average retention rate for apprentices among the top employers which means that they keep them on after they complete their apprenticeship and so demonstrate the company’s ongoing commitment to the training and to the employee. An apprentice is an investment and they will want to protect this.

Duration not determined by grade – True that apprenticeships are generally 12 months at level 2, rising to perhaps 5 years for a Degree apprenticeship. However, this is not set in stone and you will quite often see level 2 and 3 apprenticeships for longer than a year. Simply check the advert for details.

Often very good pay – There is a national minimum wage for apprentices, but there are plenty advertising generous salaries to entice you away from other options. They can offer quite a lot of money to a school leaver when your friends may be struggling to make ends meet at Uni. Recent examples include – £18,304 for a Degree (level 6) apprenticeship, £17,500 for a Higher (level 4) apprenticeship and £19,500 for an Advanced (level 3) apprenticeship.

So which level do I look for?

Finishing Year 11 – If you need to get your Maths and English, or want to start at a very junior level, consider a Level 2 (Intermediate) apprenticeship for 12-18 months. If you need more employability skills support and some work experience for 2 or 3 months, consider a Traineeship.

In Sixth Form – You may want to apply for a Level 3 (Advanced) apprenticeship because it could be a natural stepping-stone into a career that you very likely won’t have done before. It can therefore be sensible to take a ‘sideways’ move into a Level 3 role before looking to progress and, check first, but the entry requirements most likely only require your existing GCSE exam results.

Alternative to full-time Uni – If you are ready to consider a Higher or Degree apprenticeship, you will normally be asked for A-Level (or equivalent) grades before you can start, so many of these apprenticeships won’t begin until September and are clearly much more demanding.

And finally …

There are hundreds of different types of apprenticeship for different careers and the training is not the same for all of them. There are also a variety of qualifications within the different levels of apprenticeship and many of the larger employers also incorporate vital skills training such as time management, networking, communication skills and team-work.

No matter which option you choose, you are – as with your UCAS application – best off doing some research before you start. Consider what is motivating you, talk to people who have done – or are doing – an apprenticeship and read more in articles like this one.

Careersnearhere: It’s Your Future – Let’s Get It Started!

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