Apprenticeships: your questions answered

By J&C Team

Fancy training while you work – and get a salary? Then an apprenticeship could be for you. Here’s how it all works…

Those not interested in going on to university or higher education, or who don’t have the qualifications to do so, can still train for a great career – by joining an apprenticeship. This is a scheme where you get training as you work, so you can earn a salary doing a real job, while at the same time gaining nationally-recognised vocational qualifications.

An apprenticeship allows you to work alongside experienced people, so you learn practical, hands-on skills and knowledge from them. Meanwhile, your employer provides for your classroom learning at a local college, training organisation or university. This is usually on day release (one day a week) or block release (short periods of a few days at a time).

Once you’ve completed your apprenticeship, you’re likely to go on to a full-time job at the same company. You are certainly more employable and better equipped to find a job elsewhere in your chosen industry. Around 86% of apprentices continue straight into the jobs they’ve trained for – 67% with the same employer. Recent research by education think tank the Sutton Trust shows apprenticeships can also lead to higher earning potential than many university degrees.

Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education, says: ‘For many young people, going to university is the right choice. But for others, the technical education provided by apprenticeships will suit them better. I want young people to be aware of the fantastic opportunities apprenticeships and technical education offer.’  

Think an apprenticeship might be right for you, but want to find out more? We answer your questions…

Who are apprenticeships best for?

If you’re ambitious and keen to carve out a good, long-term career, but you prefer practical learning to academic study, an apprenticeship could be ideal. It allows you to get straight into work and earning a salary, while learning practical skills and theoretical knowledge along the way, even if you left school with few or no qualifications.

What sort of industries offer apprenticeships?

There are more than 1,500 different apprenticeships in more than 170 industries, covering a huge variety of sectors including business administration, construction, retail and commercial enterprise, and health and social care.

Am I eligible for an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships are open to anyone aged 16 or over who is not currently in full-time education. The requirements of entry vary, depending on the sector, and employers will have different expectations.

Do I need certain qualifications to apply?

The requirements to start an apprenticeship are flexible and not just based on academic results, as training is on the job.

There are three levels of apprenticeship: intermediate, advanced and higher. For an intermediate apprenticeship, employers might ask for two or more GCSE grades (A*-C) or equivalent. For others, however, you may not need any qualifications. If you don’t have GCSEs in English and maths, you may be required to take a basic literacy and numeracy test.

For an advanced apprenticeship, you must usually have completed an intermediate apprenticeship, or have at least five GCSEs (grades A*-C), although this isn’t always the case.

People who do a higher apprenticeship are usually over 18, and have already done an advanced apprenticeship, or have at least two A-levels or Level 3 vocational qualifications. Employers may, however, also take into account other qualifications or work experience.

Often, enthusiasm and a desire to learn matter as much as qualifications – as does being able to demonstrate practical skills, commitment and interest in your chosen area. You can increase your chances by demonstrating you have researched the sector in which you want to work and have the drive to succeed.

Many employers offer traineeships (see next page) as well as apprenticeships, so
if you have no qualifications, it may be possible to do a traineeship and then an apprenticeship with the same employer.

How long does an apprenticeship last?

There’s no set length for an apprenticeship, however it must be at least one year long, and most take between one and four years to complete, so you need the commitment to see it through to the end.

How much money am  I likely to be paid?

Apprentices must be paid at least the national minimum wage appropriate for their age group. That’s currently £3.30 an hour for those aged 16-18, and those aged 19 or over in their first year of an apprenticeship; £5.30 for those aged 19-20; and £6.70 for those aged 21 and over. However, many employers pay more – the average wage for an apprentice in England is £170 a week.

You’ll also be entitled to the same benefits as other employees, such as holiday pay, pension contributions and so on. You may also be eligible for extra money for books, equipment and clothing required for your job.  You won’t have to pay any fees for your training. If you’re 18 or under, the government pays for your training. If you’re 19 or over, your employer may have to make a contribution to your training costs, but funding help may be available.

Will I learn everything I need to know?

Completing an apprenticeship shows you have the skills, qualifications and commitment to do the job. According to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, 32% of apprentices get a promotion within a year of finishing, and 75% take on more responsibility.

So employers know you’re fully equipped for the job and ready to progress. You’ll have respected qualifications you can take with you to other employers around the country, or even to go and work abroad. Many apprentices also go on to higher education.

What qualifications will I get?

By the time you’ve completed your apprenticeship, you’ll have a nationally-recognised qualification valid for any employer. That means you can change jobs and take your skills and qualifications with you.

On an intermediate apprenticeship, you’ll usually gain National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) at Level 2 (equivalent to five GCSEs).

Alternatively, you might study for either a BTEC, GCSEs or City & Guilds qualifications.

Advanced apprenticeships lead to Level 3 qualifications (equivalent to A-levels), plus relevant technical certificates, depending on what it is you’re training in.

Higher apprenticeships take you up to Level 4 and higher, such as a degree or HND (Higher National Diploma).


Did you know…?

Here are seven fast facts about the benefits of an apprenticeship:

  1. Apprenticeships can lead to high-flying careers. One in five businesses have senior
    managers or board members who started out as apprentices.
  2. Apprenticeships aren’t just for men. Despite the popular image to the contrary, 53% of those starting an apprenticeship are female.
  3. Apprentices are guaranteed the national minimum wage, but many companies increase wages as you progress – some apprenticeships start as high as £20,000 a year.
  4. Apprentices rate the experience highly – 84 per cent say they’re satisfied with their programme; 82 per cent said it improved their ability to do their job; and 79 per cent believe their career prospects improved.
  5. You’ll earn more in the long-term. According to the Department for Education, someone taking a Level 2 apprenticeship will earn £73,000 more over their lifetime than someone with only GCSEs. At a Level 3 apprenticeship, that increases to £105,000.
  6. At any one time, there are more than 800,000 people on apprenticeships. There are currently 25,000 vacancies there to be filled.
  7. If you missed out on going to university, an apprenticeship can be an alternative way to
    gain a degree. One in five people goes on to higher education during their apprenticeship or soon after it ends.

What is a traineeship?

If you left school without GCSEs, or you’ve been turned down for an apprenticeship due to lack of skills, a traineeship could fit the bill. It’s a training and education programme, usually based in a college, with a work placement for practical learning.

Traineeships are aimed at giving young people aged 16 to 24 the skills and qualifications they need to land a job or apprenticeship, and to improve their English and maths skills if necessary. They last six weeks to six months, and are available in more than 170 industries. Traineeships aren’t paid but you may qualify for financial support, including the 16-19 Bursary Fund, and many employers will help with travel and food costs. You can find out more and search for traineeships in your area at