A Practical Guide to Apprenticeships

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A Practical Guide to Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships make up a considerable part of the Further Education sector and this is set to increase, with around 10,000 more people taking them up in the UK every year.

Previously seen as the route young people took if they didn’t go to university, in recent years apprenticeships have become a serious alternative to a degree. The prospect of on-the-job-training, no tuition fees, a foot on the employment ladder and a pay packet is attracting increasing numbers of school leavers to pursue apprenticeships.

And with the UK undergoing serious skills shortages across many industries, apprenticeships have never been more important to the labour market.

Government figures show there were 509,400 apprenticeships started in England between 2015/16 – 9,500 more than the previous year. The increased take-up rate means employers, training providers and the Government must meet the needs of apprentices, both in terms of qualifications and training.  

If you are new to FE or not directly involved with apprenticeships training in your current role, this practical guide gives you an insight into how the schemes are organised and what a would-be apprentice can expect from both training providers and employers.

What is an Apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships provide anyone over the age of 16 with on-the-job training in a choice of around 170 industries and 1,700 job roles. This is combined with classroom learning with a registered training provider, such as an FE college or private provider.

An apprenticeship is a real job with pay, which allows predominantly younger people to learn job-specific skills, working alongside experienced staff. They are available across all sectors, from engineering to agriculture.

You can find more information about the industries involved in apprenticeships at Gov.uk here.

Who are Apprenticeships for?

To be eligible for an apprenticeship, learners must be:

  • 16 or over
  • Living in the UK
  • Not in full-time education

Types of Apprenticeship

All apprenticeships lead to a nationally-recognised qualification such as an NVQ, Technical Certificate, Key Skill or even a Foundation Degree. There are currently three different levels of apprenticeship available:

  • Intermediate Level: Equivalent to five GCSE passes. The apprentice will work towards job-based qualifications such as NVQ Level 2 and a further qualification such as a BTEC.
  • Advanced Level: Equivalent to two A level passes. The apprentice will work towards NVQ Level 3. To be eligible the applicant will need to have five GCSEs at grade 4 (previously Grade C) or to have completed an Intermediate Level apprenticeship year (above).
  • Higher Apprenticeships: The apprentice will work towards NVQ Level 4 and potentially a Foundation Degree. At the end of this level, apprentices can progress to higher education to gain a university degree.  

Apprenticeships can take between 1-4 years to complete, depending on the level and industry sector.

Pay and conditions

Apprentices work for at least 30 hours per week with a company or organisation. Under 19s and those over 19 who are in the first year of their apprenticeship receive the Apprenticeships National Minimum Wage of £3.50 per hour. Those over 19 who have completed their first year qualify for the National Minimum Wage appropriate to their age group.

An apprentice will work full-time alongside experienced staff. They will also spend at least one day a week in a training organisation (such as an FE college) in order to gain the relevant qualification offered with the apprenticeship. Apprentices receive at least 20 days of holiday per year, plus bank holidays.

Becoming an Apprentice

Candidates search and apply for an apprenticeship as they would a normal job. Those interested can search for employers and training providers offering apprenticeship vacancies through the Gov.uk Find an Apprenticeship website. Eligibility depends on the apprentice’s current qualifications and the level of apprenticeship they are applying for.  

The Role of Training Providers

Training providers such as FE colleges, universities and other private and charitable organisations work closely with employers to provide a tailored training plan to meet the needs of both the employer and the apprentice. Under new regulations, employers can search for a training organisation to act as a partner to their programme through the newly launched Digital Apprenticeships Service (DAS) and the successful training organisation is then paid by the employer, in line with current funding bands.

Training providers provide the guidance, assessment and qualifications such as NVQs, Functional Skills and GCSEs in English, Maths and IT to support apprenticeship learning. Once the partnership between employer and training provider has been struck, the provider is responsible for recruiting apprentices and providing in-house and work-based support. Apprentices are paid for their time spent in college and will be appointed an assessor or workplace delivery lead by the training provider to track their progress.

How are Apprenticeships funded?

The introduction of the new Apprenticeships Levy in 2017 means employers now contribute a significant chunk of the funding required to recruit and train apprentices.

For further information about working with apprentices and how the Apprenticeships Levy works, see our article ‘How to Make Apprenticeship Training more Valuable’  or consult Gov.uk.

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