First of all, a little bit of history. Apprenticeships date back to the Middle Ages and the medieval craft guilds of that time. Picture groups of tradesmen or craftsmen banding together to ensure high standards of quality (they also came together for other reasons, but those aren’t important here). They were carpenters, painters and cloth makers, who took on apprentices to ‘pass on’ their skills and experience.
Since then, the world – and education, training and employment – have changed, and so too have apprenticeships. Today, they provide an alternative path to education while ensuring that professions and industries have the skilled workers they need.
In this century, apprenticeships have been embraced as a viable alternative to university, and the modern apprenticeship is accessible, flexible and a boon for both young people and employers.
An apprenticeship, which must last for a minimum of 12 months, combines hands-on work with the opportunity to train and obtain qualifications. It is also a paid position, so you earn while you learn. At least 20% of your time is set aside for learning, usually at a college, university or training provider.
The rest of your time is spent applying your knowledge and skills in the actual workplace, doing the job that you set out to get. At the end of it, you will gain official certification, which will be equivalent to traditional qualifications. Apprenticeship levels are set and equivalent to as follows:
- 2 (Intermediate): GCSEs at grades A* to C
- 3 (Advanced): A-levels at grades A to E
- 4 (Higher): foundation degree
- 5 (Higher): foundation degree/first year of bachelor’s degree
- 6 (Degree): bachelor’s degree
- 7 (Degree): master’s degree
It is important to note that there are caveats. Apprenticeships are designed to be flexible, so, for example, an employer may offer a level 6 or 7 apprenticeship, considered to be at the higher level, without giving you the option of getting an actual degree qualification, while others will.
It is essential that you check before applying – the qualifications on offer and the level at which you will train will be made explicit, so you will be able to decide if you are happy to undertake an apprenticeship at the degree level without the prospect of being awarded one at the end of it. Many intermediate, advanced and higher apprenticeships will also give you the opportunity to obtain qualifications such as diplomas in relevant areas.
There is no maximum age limit for an apprenticeship, but they are for those aged 16 or over, living in England and not in full-time education.
As an apprentice, you will earn a wage. The current minimum wage rate for an apprentice is £4.15 per hour. This rate applies if you are under 19, or if you are aged 19 or over and are in your first year. You must be paid the national minimum wage for your age if you are an apprentice aged 19 or over and have completed your first year. The national minimum wage is currently set at £6.45 for 18- to-20-year-olds, £8.20 for 21- to 24-year-olds and £8.72 for those aged 25 and over.
On top of this, you will be paid for your normal working hours and the training that is part of your apprenticeship, usually one day per week. You will also be entitled to the statutory minimum of 20 days of paid holiday per year, plus bank holidays, of which there are currently eight.
It is important to note here that these pay rates and holiday entitlements are minimums only. Employers will often set their salaries on offer at higher rates, depending on company policy, in order to make their apprenticeships competitive. Many will also differ on their date of payment, with some having monthly wage structures and others preferring to pay their staff weekly. Many employers also offer additional benefits, such as gym memberships, private healthcare and travel loans. The current minimum age for a workplace pension is 22, however, check with the employer when you apply, as they may offer a pension to all of their employees.