You may know exactly what career you would like and even what company you want to work for. but do you know how to go about getting an actual job? Apprenticeships allow you to gain practical experience and avoid student debt.
Climbing the career ladder is all well and good, but how do you get your foot on the first rung? Should you go to college, get a relevant qualification and then take your chances with the other people – thousands of them – sending off their CVs, all with the same qualifications, hoping your application will stand out?
You may find you’re still not successful because, while you’ve got the right qualifications, you’re lacking practical experience and the workplace skills the employer is also looking for.
This catch-22 situation can be very frustrating when you’re starting out. It may even prevent you pursuing the career path you really want, and taking some other job that you don’t actually like just because you were offered it. Any job is better than no job, right?
Well, no. Loving what you do is important, so it’s worth looking at ways to get into the field you’re truly passionate about. An apprenticeship is one option; it gives you the opportunity to gain practical skills while you work, and earn a wage, but also study towards qualifications, usually by attending college one day a week. An apprenticeship will help you get that all-important first-hand experience of the workplace and the qualifications you need for your chosen job.
Combined, these will give you a head start for your future job prospects.
And OK, you’re not going to earn a whacking great salary while you’re an Apprentice. Current rates are £3.40 per hour for Apprentices aged 16-18 and those aged over 19 in their first year of apprenticeship. Other Apprentices should earn at least the minimum wage which, since 1 October, has been: £4 for under 18s; £5.55 for 18-20-year-olds; £6.95 for 21-24-year-olds; £7.20 for people over 25. However, this is the minimum. Many employers actually pay Apprentices more than this.
But, and it’s a big but, if it’s a career you really want, it’s well worth struggling in the early days. Within a few years you’ll have the experience and qualifications you need to be promoted on to a higher salary, or move up or across within your chosen industry.
This will put you a step ahead of the people who have gone to college and have a qualification, but are now in debt and have no practical experience.
You can become an Apprentice in practically any industry, and you can apply directly to individual companies, many of whom have apprenticeship schemes, or through the government National Apprenticeship Service (findapprenticeship.service.gov.uk/apprenticeshipsearch). At any one time, there are up to 20,000 apprenticeships available on this site.
Whatever industry you choose, as an Apprentice you work alongside an existing team, gaining plenty of valuable hands-on experience.
You’ll be paid a wage, earn holiday pay, and you’ll also study to gain a recognised qualification in your field – normally one day a week at a local college.
Apprenticeships come in three stages; intermediate (equivalent to five GCSE passes); advanced (equivalent to two A-levels); and higher (which can lead to an NVQ level 4 and above, or a foundation degree).
They will normally take between one and four years to complete and, once you’re done, you can go on to take further education or continue in employment.
You need to be over 16 to apply to be an Apprentice, and not be in full-time education. It’s a great way for those who have a passion to get into their chosen field, but can also be a good option for school leavers who don’t really know what to do next, or those who perhaps didn’t get the qualifications they had hoped for.
If you’ve left school without any qualifications, you could also look into the traineeships programme, which is designed to provide a stepping stone to future success by giving people aged 16-23 the training, English and maths skills and work experience they need to get an apprenticeship, or go on to find employment. Traineeships usually last between six weeks and six months – visit getingofar.gov.uk/traineeships to find out more information.
Consider all options
If you are not sure you are suited to apprenticeships, or are still considering what to do next, investigate your options by checking out notgoingtouni.co.uk for more information on your choices.
The National Careers Service (nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk) is a great place to find out information; it provides useful independent, impartial advice about careers and the job market to everyone aged 13 and over.
Joe Billington, Director of the National Careers Service, said: ‘Young people need impartial, inspirational information and advice to motivate them to succeed and to help them make the right choices.
‘Apprenticeships are an increasingly popular option with young people as they provide the opportunity to work in a range of jobs and to both earn and learn at the same time. They can lead to life-changing career opportunities with real progression,’ says Joe.
And the good news is that even though some areas of the job market may be struggling, companies are actively recruiting Apprentices.
In 2014-15, there were 499,900 people starting apprenticeships in England, according to gov.uk, 59,500 (14%) more than the previous year.
As part of a drive towards three million apprenticeships by 2020, the government is committed to increasing the number of higher apprenticeships to deliver the high-tech skills employers are calling out for. Last year the government launched degree apprenticeships, which bring together the very best in academic learning and hands-on training.
So whatever your level, you should be able to find an apprenticeship that can help you get the career you want.
‘I prefer the vocational route’
Jack Ripley, 21, from East Sussex, is studying for an NVQ in plumbing and central heating
‘I decided to become an Apprentice as I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I left school. I spoke to my mum about it, and her partner works as a Plumber and said there was a lot of work for plumbers in my area. He offered me an apprenticeship with his company.
‘I’ve been going to college once a week, and working the other four days, for nearly two years, and I’ve just passed my Level 2 NVQ. I get a set wage of £200 per week.
‘I’m planning to go on and do Level 3, which will take two years’ day release. Once I’ve completed that, I’ll be fully qualified and able to work anywhere
as a Plumbing and Heating Engineer.
‘I really enjoy working in the construction industry. I like being on site and putting what I’ve learned at college into practice, and I enjoy chatting to the clients because I get on with people.
‘I’ve found the apprenticeship route works really well for me, as it’s mostly practical. I don’t really enjoy traditional college-based learning as I struggle with getting things down on paper.
‘So, I’d definitely recommend an apprenticeship, particularly for anyone interested in a hands-on trade, such as construction. I think practical experience counts for more than qualifications in this industry.’