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What is an apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship is a real job that combines on- and off-the-job training, leading to industry-recognised standards or qualifications.

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The structure of apprenticeships

As an apprentice you will spend most of your time in the workplace, gaining job-specific skills, but around 20% of your time should be spent in off-the-job training. This is normally away from the workplace in a classroom or workshop at a college, university or training centre. 

The off-the-job training element could be by day release, for a block of a week or more at a time, or even for a longer period. Those taking certain Higher and Degree Apprenticeships may spend the first year of their programme at a specialist training centre.

Apprenticeships take between one and six years to complete.

What apprenticeship roles are available?

Most people know about apprenticeships in trades like building or hairdressing, but apprenticeships are available in a wide variety of sectors. They cover hundreds of different roles ranging from accountancy to veterinary nursing. Employers offering apprenticeships range from large national organisations (such as BMW, Sainsbury’s and the NHS) to small enterprises.

Levels of apprenticeships

Different levels of apprenticeship are available right up to Degree Apprenticeships. The level you start at will depend on a number of factors. 

Assessment, qualifications and certificates

You will receive a separate certificate for any qualifications that form part of your apprenticeship, as well as an apprenticeship certificate once you have achieved all the components.

What’s included in an apprenticeship depends on the exact apprenticeship and whether you are doing a new-style programme (an apprenticeship ‘standard’) or an apprenticeship ‘framework’. The qualifications and certificates you gain will be at the same level as the apprenticeship.

Apprenticeship frameworks include a technical certificate (e.g. a BTEC National or OCR qualification) that demonstrates your knowledge and understanding related to the sector, and a competence qualification that shows you have the skills to perform your job role. Sometimes these two elements are combined into one qualification. You may also take skills qualifications in English, maths and ICT (Key Skills, Functional Skills or GCSEs), although if you already have qualifications in these subjects, you may be exempt. 

If you are taking a new apprenticeship standard, any qualifications you work towards depend on the exact apprenticeship but your skills, knowledge and behaviours are evaluated at the end through an end-point assessment; this could be an observation, test or presentation. At the end you are graded fail, pass, merit or distinction. 

Apprenticeship frameworks

Pay for apprentices 

Apprentices must be paid for their normal working hours and for the hours of training that forms part of the apprenticeship. 

The National Minimum Wage for apprentices only applies to young people and those aged 19+ in the first year of an apprenticeship. When you move into your second year you get the National Minimum/Living Wage rate that applies to your age. Minimum wages are reviewed annually. The rates from April 2018 are:

  • £3.70 for an apprentice aged 19+ in the first year of their programme
  • £5.90 for those aged 18-20
  • £7.38 for those aged 21-24
  • £7.83 for those aged 25 

Remember that these are legal minimums. Many employers pay much more and as you progress and become more skilled, your income normally increases. 

You may also receive benefits and be entitled to additional money, e.g. for essential clothing or equipment, or to help you with a disability.

Actual earnings vary depending on the sector, region and apprenticeship level. It’s not unusual for those on Higher and Degree Apprenticeships to earn £15-20,000 a year – sometimes more. You can find details in the Apprenticeship Pay Survey 2016.

Hours and holidays

You should be employed for at least 30 hours per week (including off-the-job training). In some circumstances, e.g. if you have caring responsibilities or a disability, you may be able to work fewer hours. 

The hours you will be expected to work depend on your employer and how their organisation operates, but the maximum number of hours should be 48 (as for all workers over the age of 18).

You should get at least 20 days paid holiday a year as well as bank holidays.

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