All about apprenticeships

If you already know what industry you want to work in and like the sound of training on the job, an apprenticeship could be just what you’re looking for.

What is an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships are for 16-24 year olds who are already in employment, or who want to work while training and learning. They’re a great way to learn, earn and gain invaluable experience of real work! There are apprenticeships available in many different areas. Just a few of these are:

  • Arts, media and publishing
  • Business, administration and law
  • Leisure, travel and tourism
  • Education and training
  • Engineering
  • Construction
  • Agriculture and animal care.

How does it work?

As an apprentice you will be officially employed, paid a wage (the average wage for an apprentice is £170 per week) and given on-the-job training. So instead of going to college or sixth form three to five days per week, an apprentice spends most of their time in a real-life workplace.

You’ll study for a qualification (often an NVQ) alongside work, and you’ll get help from a college or training provider. You will also spend time studying key skills, team working, communication, IT, numeracy and problem-solving.

You might also need to do Functional Skills Maths and English, depending on what grades you got at GCSE Maths and English. Often if you already have a C or above you won’t need to do Functional Skills, but some employers will still ask you to do them. This is because Functional Skills are about the real-life literacy (English) and numeracy (maths) skills that are needed on the job. For example, you might be asked to work out how much stock is needed for a shop, based on the previous sales figures.

How long does it take?

The length of an apprenticeship will often depend on the level being studied and can vary from one to two years, or can even last for up to four years.

In England there are three levels of apprenticeships:

  • Intermediate – Level 2, equivalent to five GCSEs
  • Advanced – Level 3, equivalent to two A levels
  • Higher – Level 4, equivalent to a Foundation Degree.

Apprenticeships can be a route to university, but check with the individual vacancy information to be sure.

How easy is it to get an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships are incredibly popular, so you will have to show that you are serious, committed and eager to do all you can to learn and progress.

At the start of 2014 there were over 13,500 apprenticeships being advertised in lots of different subjects across the country. However, it’s not as simple as just getting an apprenticeship in whatever job you want.

In the old days apprenticeships were mostly offered in the construction trades, and apprentices would often be carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and so on. These days you are far more likely to find an apprenticeship in office work or catering than you are in construction. For example, in January 2014 there were only around 180 vacancies in the whole country for jobs related to construction, planning and the built environment.

If you’re interested in an apprenticeship it’s a good idea to start looking now, so you get an idea of what’s out there and what employers are looking for. Try contacting companies directly to get some work experience. It will improve your chances of being accepted onto an apprenticeship and help you find out more about the job.

How do you apply for an apprenticeship?

All apprenticeship vacancies are supposed to be advertised on the Apprenticeships website, but try registering with local training providers as well. You can register on the Apprenticeships site while you’re still at school, but you won’t be able to start an apprenticeship until you have officially finished school. It’s a good idea to start applying after the Easter holidays, because vacancies are for real jobs and employers normally want people to start straight away. Some employers won’t take you on until after you’ve got your GCSE results in August.

When you apply for an apprenticeship you need to treat it like applying for any other job – check your spelling and punctuation on the application form very carefully. You will also need to be very professional if you are invited to an interview. This means dressing smartly, arriving early, researching the company and thinking about the questions they might ask you.

Just one last thing – even if you are keen on doing an apprenticeship, it‘s always a good idea to apply to a local college or sixth form course too, in case you don’t get your dream apprenticeship in time. Otherwise, you could end up not doing anything for months after Year 11, which won’t look good on your applications. It’s better to start a college course, sixth form or training and carry on applying to apprenticeships. This way you are still doing something productive, and it will show potential employers that you can get up and attend somewhere every day.

Whatever you end up choosing to do, all the very best of luck!