The Different Types of Apprenticeship Levels Explained

Young male apprenticeship with mentor pointing at machine

For many young people, leaving school means either packing their bags and heading off to university or hashing together a CV and taking the plunge into full-time employment. But there’s another alternative where earning and learning can be combined: apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships are increasing in value and popularity with each passing year, and with good reason, too. For one, outdated misconceptions about a lack of flexibility are being dismissed; gone are the days where apprenticeships were restricted to just plumbing and bricklaying.

In the majority of cases, they are not age-specific, either; there are numerous examples of professionals in their 30s deciding to retrain or change careers altogether. Indeed, with governments and industry bodies recognising apprenticeships as a highly useful means with which to plug employment gaps and skills shortages, more and more companies are being encouraged to create their own programmes.

For job seekers, the key to optimising this trend is first knowing which type of scheme is most suitable. There are several apprenticeship levels, each designed to target those with varying academic backgrounds. In this article, we will explain the intricacies and benefits of each one.

So, if you’re looking to kick-start your career – and earn a wage while doing so – read on. This is what you need to know…

Level 2 / Intermediate Apprenticeships

Typical length: Around 12 to 18 months

Typical salary: Minimum wage

Educational requirements: None

Intermediate apprenticeships are designed for those without GCSEs or with a limited educational background and, while not restricted to school leavers, are typically pursued by 16-year-olds instead of continuing their academic education.

Generally, these apprenticeships are in practical or vocational trades under the supervision of a full-time employer, but you would still spend time (usually between one and two days a week) at a local college. As part of your overall qualification, you would also likely need to complete Level 1 and/or 2 key skills training in literacy and numeracy.

Upon completion of the apprenticeship, you would receive a Level 2 qualification, such as a GCSE, a BTEC or City & Guilds Award. You would then either continue as a full-time worker with your employer or progress onto the next level of the framework.

In the US, an equivalent scheme exists under the guise of youth apprenticeships, a relatively new concept that seeks to bridge the gap from high school into skilled employment – especially for those who do not obtain their high school diploma. The viability and success of this scheme varies from state to state, but increasing efforts by the federal government to establish this training route could see it become a prominent option for young people over the next 10 years.

Major organisations that offer Level 2 apprenticeships in the UK include:

  • Retail and customer service: Superdrug, Enterprise, Co-operative Bank, Greene King, Aldi and JLL
  • Telecommunications: Virgin Media and BT
  • Transport: Network Rail
  • Media: BBC
  • Construction: Balfour Beatty, Laing O’Rourke and BAM Nuttall
  • Automotive: Peugeot
  • Engineering: BAE Systems, Siemens and the Royal Air Force
  • Energy: Centrica and SSE
  • Manufacturing: GlaxoSmithKline, Unilever, Cummins and Nestlé
  • IT and tech: IBM, Accenture, Fujitsu and DSTL
  • Legal and banking: Lloyds Bank, Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland, Adecco, Direct Line and HSBC
  • Accounting: Grant Thornton

Level 3 / Advanced Apprenticeships

Typical length: Around two years

Typical salary: Dependent on age, region and employer, but on average around £10,000 per year

Educational requirements: Around 5 GCSEs A*-C or equivalent / Intermediate apprenticeship

Advanced apprenticeships are typically aimed at those who have some academic background but who are not keen on attending sixth form and subsequently university. They can be especially beneficial for those who want to gain immediate experience in their chosen industry.

These schemes cover a wide range of fields and industries, with many companies seeing it as the perfect level at which to induct junior employees into their organisation. You will likely spend an increased amount of time focusing on the ‘classroom’ aspect of the apprenticeship, either with a partnered training provider or through your employer’s own internal training programme.

Upon completion of the scheme, you would receive a qualification that is typically akin to two A-Levels (or equivalent), with the option to continue onto a higher level of the framework or, as in most instances, to continue as a full-time employee in your chosen area.

In the US, apprenticeships at this level are more established, with the majority of schemes available being offered within the construction industry. Most of these programmes are the result of collaborations between individual companies and labour unions, with increasing attempts to implement an accredited academic aspect. Schemes also exist in other industries, such as aerospace, pharmaceuticals and engineering.

Major organisations that offer Level 3 apprenticeships in the UK include:

  • Retail and customer service: Aldi, Tesco and Enterprise
  • Telecommunications: Virgin Media
  • Media: BBC and ITV
  • Transport: Network Rail and Transport for London
  • Construction: 3M, Arup, Mott MacDonald and Laing O’Rourke
  • Engineering: Leonardo, BAE Systems, Thales, Siemens and Costain
  • Manufacturing: GlaxoSmithKline and Nestlé
  • Energy: EDF Energy, E.ON and National Grid
  • Automotive: Jaguar Land Rover, BMW Group, Peugeot and Mercedes-AMG
  • Aeronautical / Aerospace: Thomson Airlines
  • IT and tech: Microsoft, IBM, Fujitsu, Accenture, escalla, Hewlett-Packard and Capgemini
  • Legal and banking: JPMorgan Chase, Nomura, Lloyds Bank, M&G Investments, HSBC, Fidelity and Royal Bank of Scotland
  • Accounting: Mazars

Level 4 / Higher Apprenticeships

Typical length: Between three and five years

Typical salary: Dependent on age, region and employer but can be anything between £12,000 and £19,000 per year, rising to as high as £23,000

Educational requirements: At least two A-Levels or equivalent / Advanced apprenticeship

Higher apprenticeships are a more modern phenomenon and, in general terms, are catered more towards professional (or ‘white collar’) career paths. Sometimes referred to as ‘school leaver’ or ‘non-graduate’ programmes, they are an increasingly appealing alternative to university or college for many young people, as well as a viable way to change career while still earning a salary for more experienced workers.

Depending on your chosen field, a higher apprenticeship can represent the first step towards an eventual full bachelor’s degree or as a standalone qualification such as a Higher National Diploma (HND) or a foundation degree. Alternatively, it can involve the obtaining of an industry-specific entry certificate, such as the CFAB in accounting or the CCNA in IT.

Either way, you would be expected to supplement your classroom sessions with additional study in your own time, as well as continuing to manage your work commitments. There is a much larger degree of autonomy and independence involved at this level, meaning it should not be taken on lightly.

In the US, there is no established federal framework for this level of apprenticeship, although some individual companies may offer similar schemes.

Major organisations that offer Level 4 apprenticeships in the UK include:

  • Retail and customer service: Pret a Manger, TUI, Harrods and Greene King
  • Transport: Transport for London and Network Rail
  • Telecommunications: Sky, BT and Virgin Media
  • Construction: Laing O’Rourke, Mace and BAM Nuttall
  • Manufacturing: Mondelez, GlaxoSmithKline, Unilever and Nestlé
  • Engineering: BAE Systems, General Electric and Leonardo
  • Energy: National Grid, Centrica, EDF Energy and BP
  • Automotive: Rolls-Royce, Jaguar Land Rover and Mercedes-AMG
  • Aeronautical / Aerospace: Thomson Airlines
  • IT and tech: Hewlett-Packard, Atos, Capgemini, Accenture, IBM and CGI
  • Legal and banking: JPMorgan Chase, Nomura, AON, Lloyds Bank, M&G Investments, Royal Bank of Scotland and Fidelity
  • Accounting: PwC, EY, Deloitte, KPMG, Grant Thornton, Mazars, BDO and Smith & Williamson

Level 6 & 7 / Degree Apprenticeships

Typical length: Between three and seven years

Typical salary: Dependent on age, region and employer but can be anything between £12,000 and £19,000 per year, rising to as high as £23,000

Educational requirements: At least two A-Levels or equivalent

As the name suggests, degree apprenticeships – or ‘sponsored degrees’, as they are also known – involve attending higher education while working. They are currently something of a fledgeling concept, with several organisations only recently implementing them.

They are primarily designed as a means to attract talented, high-potential candidates to particular professions, or to bridge skills gaps where they exist. In some instances, they have even revolutionised the entire structure of the training pathway. For instance, law firm Eversheds Sutherland made huge waves when they introduced a six-year solicitor apprenticeship programme (known as a ‘trailblazer’ scheme) in 2016. Other industries where degree apprenticeships have also proved successful include it and technology, civil engineering, and management.

The large majority of these programmes are approved and accredited by universities, and you would be expected to attend lectures on a full-time basis, usually spending time in the office during holiday periods. On the downside, there is an enormous amount of pressure involved, as failure to meet the minimum academic requirements may result in your job offer being withdrawn.

In the US, there is again no established federal framework for this level of apprenticeship, although individual companies may offer similar schemes. Research the top companies in your area of interest and take a closer look at what they are offering.

Major organisations that offer degree apprenticeships include:

  • Construction: Morgan Sindall Group, BAM Nuttall, Mace, Atkins and Arup
  • Engineering: BAE Systems
  • IT and tech: Capgemini, CGI and IBM
  • Legal and banking: Barclays Bank, Santander and Goldman Sachs
  • Accounting: PwC, EYand KPMG

Regardless of your career choice, there’s a wealth of opportunities at top multinational companies to gain in-demand skills, and all while getting paid in the process. So, whether you want to make yourself more employable, change direction to something more suitable or if you’re simply undecided and wondering what comes after A-Levels, then why not consider an apprenticeship that is appropriate to you? After all, who knows where it might take you?

Do you think apprenticeships are a viable alternative to university? Let us know in the comments section below!