Image Credit: Pixabay

What are apprenticeships?

An apprenticeship allows you to combine practical training in a job with studying. You’ll work alongside experienced staff, gain job-specific skills, earn a wage and study (usually 1 day a week) towards a relevant qualification. 

You will work at least 30 hours a week in your chosen profession for a minimum duration of 12 months, however, apprenticeships can take up to four years to complete depending on the level, your ability and the industry sector. 

Common apprenticeship areas include: agriculture; arts and media; business and administration; construction; education; engineering; health care; ICT; leisure and tourism; and retail. They cover over 170 industries and 1,500 job roles. 

You can start an Apprenticeship when you are over 16 and not in full-time education. You'll have to meet certain criteria to apply for an apprenticeship and your qualifications needed will depend on the level of apprenticeship you apply for. 

All apprenticeships lead to a nationally recognised qualification approved by Ofqual and are respected by employers around the world. 

The types of qualifications you'll gain and the level of apprenticeship you can apply for depend on the country you live in (for more information, please see the qualifications tab above), however the types of qualifications you might gain include:

  • National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) at levels 2, 3, 4 or 5
  • Functional Skills qualifications such as English, maths or ICT
  • a technical certificate such as a BTEC or City & Guilds Progression Award
  • knowledge-based qualifications such as a Higher National Certificate (HNC), a Higher National Diploma (HND) or Foundation Degree

For more information about how the qualifications compare please see our Higher Education and Key Stage 5 pages. 

As an apprentice, you'll be entitled to the minimum wage which currently stands at £3.30 per hour for those between 16-18 and those aged 19 in their first year. However, many employers pay more, with the average gross weekly wage being £200. This is dependent on the sector, region and apprenticeship level, with some Higher Apprenitceships paying as much as £300-£500 per week. You'll also be entitled to holiday pay and bank holidays.

How Apprenticeships Work

As an apprenticeship you'll attend work in the same way as any other employee. In this way, you have to behave and dress appropriately according to the type of work that you are undertaking. 

You'll start any time of year (unlike university), with vacancies being advertised throughout the year. Once you've obtained your position you'll meet an advisor approximately once a month who will guide you, get feedback from your manager, and enter you for any qualifications you are working towards. You'll only be entered for exams when you are ready, so you'll be able to undertake your apprenticeship at your own pace. 

Why Choose the Apprenticeship Route?

There has never been a better time to be an apprentice. Apprenticeships offer you a chance to learn in a real job, gain and qualification and work in an industry. 

At any one time, there are up to 20,000 apprenticeships available on and they are becoming ever more popular. In the academic year of 2012-13, more than half a million apprentices began their training. 

Additionally, apprentices' opportunities for career progression are increasing with the expanision of Higher Apprenticeships. Equivalent to degrees more of these specialised and highly skilled apprenticeships are being offered each year, giving you the chance to continue your professional development. 

Another benefit of an apprenticeship is the ability to stay in work once you've completed it - 85% of apprentices stay in employment and two thirds remain with the same employer. Research from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills showed that a third of former apprentices had received a promotion within a year of finishing, and of those in work, three quarters reported taking on more responsibility in their jobs. 

Employers view qualified apprentices as 15% more employable than those with other qualifications, and long-term research shows that the lifetime benefit of undertaking an Intermediate Apprenticeship is extra earnings of between £48,000 and £74,000, and an Advanced Apprenticeship between £77,000 and £117,000. This figure rises to £150,000+ for a Higher Apprenticeship, comparable to university graduates.

Finding an Apprenticeship

As an apprenticeship is a proper job, you'll need to find an apprenticeship yourself in the same way by:

  • registering for apprenticeship opportunities on general job websites and those specialised in apprenticeship vacancies
  • contacting your local college or training provider to speak to them about their apprenticeship opportunities
  • if you are recieving benefits, you can speak to your adviser at the Jobcentre plus 
  • visiting employer's websites and looking for vacancies. If they don't have a vacancy, but you'd like to work with them you could contact them directly to ask whether they have any apprenticeships lined up and whether they can keep you informed

The government's apprenticeship website also offers the opportunity to search and apply for positions in a variety of industry sectors - you can also search through their app for the iPhone and Android. It is also important to remember that apprenticeships may only be available with local firms, so check with job websites for specific areas, such as Manchester. The 'Find an Apprenticeship' tab on the left provides more links to help you find your ideal apprenticeship. 

Search for an apprenticeship which suits your current experience and qualifications. For example, as a general rule, an Advanced level apprenticeship (which is equivalent to A-levels) will ask for more experience and higher qualifications than an Intermediate level apprenticeship (which is equivalent to GCSEs). However, it may be that the Advanced level apprenticeship asks for less experience and instead takes longer to complete - along the way you might take both GCSE and A-level equivalent qualifications. When applying for a role the job description will state the entry requirements you'll need. 

You'll have to create a CV explaining your skills and expertise which you can send to prospective employers, and if the company likes you you'll be asked to come to an interview. See our Applications & Interviews page for more help with this. 

Looking for an apprenticeship involves you understanding the employer and job description before you apply, so make sure you identify your skills and interests, find out more about the employer, the training provider and the job description before applying and tailor your application to each vacancy you apply to. Also it's useful to follow up with each application with a phone call.