Apprenticeships have a bad reputation.
Sixty per cent of respondents to a recent Monster survey thought that apprenticeships pay less than £100 a week while 75 per cent think they’re solely aimed at those aged between 17 and 21, and 21 per cent said that they don’t offer much in terms of career progression.
However, they couldn’t be any further from the truth. Apprentices make an average £170 per week (and often significantly more). More than 210,000 people who started an apprenticeship in 2014/2015 were aged 25 and over, according to Not Going to Uni’s Apprenticeship Guide 2016. And only 4.5 per cent of those who completed their programme with a Level 4 vocational qualification in 2013 became unemployed within the first 6 months.
To rephrase our previous statement: apprenticeships are a great option with a bad reputation.
Whether you’re a school leaver, a career starter or even a career changer, doing an apprenticeship might just be the perfect route for you. Find out all about the opportunities and benefits available to you as well as how to nail your interview in our complete guide to apprenticeships.
Apprenticeships: The FAQs
First things first, let’s answer some of the most frequently asked questions surrounding apprenticeships. For starters:
What Are They?
In layman’s terms, apprenticeships are defined as government-funded work-based training programmes for people aged 16 and over. They combine full-time paid employment with part-time study for a relevant and nationally-recognised qualification.
Generally speaking, they allow you to earn a wage while working alongside experienced staff to gain job-specific skills. Most training is delivered in the workplace, and you’ll have to work at least 30 hours a week. The rest of the training is provided by a training organisation (usually one day a week) either at the workplace, at an off-site learning institution (like a college, for example) or via e-learning. All apprenticeships are at least 12 months long and can take anywhere between 2 and 6 years to complete, depending on the type you are doing.
What Types Are There?
There are over 200 different types of apprenticeships available in the UK, covering more than 1,500 job roles. These include:
Plumbing and Heating
Creative and Digital Media
Remember: you won’t be able to access certain career paths with an apprenticeship. This is particularly true for areas such as medicine or science where you will be required to get a degree.
Check out the GOV.UK website for a complete list of the types of apprenticeships available to you.
Are There Different Levels?
There are four different levels outlined below:
- Intermediate (Level 2): They’re considered to be the equivalent of five good GCSE passes (at grades A* to C), and rarely take more than two years to complete.
- Advanced (Level 3): They’re the equivalent of two A Level passes, and rarely last longer than two years.
- Higher (Levels 4, 5, 6 and 7): These can lead to a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) Level 4, a Scottish Vocational Qualification (SVQ) at SCQF Levels 8 and 9, a Higher National Diploma (HND) or a foundation degree. They often take longer than two years, and four years isn’t uncommon.
- Degree (Levels 6 and 7): They’re similar to Higher Apprenticeships but differ in that they provide the opportunity to gain a full bachelor’s (Level 6) or master’s (Level 7) degree. They can take between three and six years to complete, with part-time study taking place at a university. This scheme only operates in England and Wales.
Apprenticeships in some areas are only available at particular levels. For example, Community Safety is only available at Level 2 and Spa Therapy only at Level 3. For those available at multiple levels, you may need to complete the lowest level before advancing to the next successfully
Who Can Become an Apprentice?
Anyone over the age of 16, living in the UK and not in full-time education can apply. Further entry requirements vary according to the type you are interested in, and you may need up to five GCSEs at grades A* to C (including English and Maths) to qualify.
A traineeship, meanwhile, may be more suitable for you if you don’t have the appropriate skills, experience and qualifications. These programmes usually take up to 6 months to complete and are designed to help people between the ages of 16 and 24 gain the essential work preparation training, English and Maths support (if needed), and work experience that employers look for.
Volunteering can also be a viable option to gain any necessary experience, giving you an edge over other applicants.
Who Pays for the Training?
Government funding is available to cover the costs of your training (100 per cent if you’re aged between 16 and 18, and 50 per cent if you’re aged between 19 and 24). If you’re over 24, however, your employer might cover your training expenses or you could be eligible for an Advanced Learner Loan.
How Much Do Apprentices Earn?
The current minimum wage for an apprentice is £3.40 for both those aged under 19 and those aged 19 or over and in the first year. If you’re over 19 and have completed the first year, you will be entitled to the national minimum wage (£5.55 for ages 18-20, £6.95 for ages 21-24 and £7.20 for ages 25 and over) – with many employers paying significantly more.
Generally speaking, pay is dependent on the industry, location and type of apprenticeship you’re undertaking. The most competitive programmes pay up to £30,000 a year, and recent research conducted jointly by Barclays and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) shows that apprentices can earn up to 270 per cent more than their university graduate counterparts.
In addition to a salary, apprentices are entitled to the same rights as other employees, including a contract of employment, a minimum of 20 paid days’ leave per year plus bank holidays, pay sick entitlement as well as any other perks and benefits the individual employer may offer its employees.
The Pros and Cons of an Apprenticeship
If you're currently thinking about doing an apprenticeship to start your career in the industry you're interested in, you'll naturally want to weigh up the pros and cons. Here are just a handful of the many reasons why you should or shouldn't do an apprenticeship.
- You'll earn while you learn: No student loans, no tuition fees and no debt. Just a normal wage along with your professional training.
- You'll broaden your skill set: You'll be able to build new and develop key skills that employers look for in candidates.
- You'll gain a new qualification: This will allow you to present yourself as a knowledgeable and experienced professional to potential employers.
- You can't access certain career paths: For example, if you want to become a doctor, you'll need to pursue a more formal education.
- The competition is tough: It's incredibly hard to get onto an apprenticeship compared to going to uni.
- The salary is lower: You'll make about £9,500 less than your graduate counterparts - per year.
How to Find an Apprenticeship
If you’ve decided that it is your preferred route to a successful career, the next step you need to take is to find an apprenticeship programme that best suits your needs, interests and qualifications. There are six main ways you can do this, and you should aim to explore all of these methods to optimise your chances of success:
- Search the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS): The NAS website advertises apprenticeship opportunities in England. Their database is searchable by keyword, location and preferred programme level.
- Contact Employers Directly: Many companies across the country offer apprenticeship programmes – EY, HSBC and Tesco are just a few. A good idea is to make a list of the companies you’d like to work for, and then visit their websites to locate any vacancies.
- Use Social Media: Join groups dedicated to local job placements, follow company pages and participate in discussions on sites like Facebook, Twitter and especially LinkedIn where you can connect with professionals and influences in your target industry.
- Attend an Apprenticeships Fair: Apprenticeships fairs are a great way to meet employers as they provide you with the opportunity to learn more about their programmes and what they look for in candidates. Don’t forget to take copies of your CV with you!
- Check Your Local Jobs Centre: Visit your local Jobcentre Plus office and speak to an adviser for more information as well as advice and current vacancies.
- Search Online: GetMyFirstJoband the Apprentice Employment Agency should be two of the first websites you visit when looking for apprenticeships on the internet. Don’t forget to check out the major job boards like Monster and Reed, as well as our very own CareerAddict Jobs.
How to Apply for an Apprenticeship
Now that you’ve located an opportunity that you are interested in pursuing, you’ll need to sort out your application and any supplementary materials like your CV and cover letter. Here are some tips to take into consideration when applying for an apprenticeship.
Apply for Vacancies That Are Suited to Your Skills
In other words, don’t apply for anything and everything that’s going. Make sure you only focus your efforts on the vacancies that best fit your skills, experience and qualifications, and that you don’t waste time applying for roles that you are not equipped to do.
One of the most important things to remember when filling out an application form – for any type of job – is to ensure that it’s 100 per cent complete before submission. Read all the instructions carefully and answer all of the questions – remember: it’s more acceptable to write ‘Not applicable’ than leave something blank! Hiring managers often skip applications that are incomplete and some companies will even filter candidates by their responses to specific questions. We, therefore, reiterate: fill out all of the fields!
Most applications will include the following sections:
- Education (your most recent school or college)
- Qualifications (or your predicted grades if you don’t know your results yet)
- Work Experience (including paid and voluntary work)
- Skills and Interests (usually questions about your key strengths and qualities)
Remember to take caution when answering certain questions like: ‘What are your hobbies and interests?’ If you’re applying for an accounting apprenticeship, for example, mentioning your love of football won’t earn you any points. Make sure that the interests you include in your application are relevant to the job – they should be more achievement-based and should add further value to your candidacy.
Don’t forget to provide examples to evidence your suitability!
Tailor Your Application
A one-size-fits-all approach simply won’t cut it here. While filling out an application form can be a time-consuming process, particularly if you’re applying for multiple positions, it’s important to tailor your application to each individual apprenticeship. This does not only show that you are indeed interested in the vacancy, but it also provides you with the opportunity to make a great first impression on a prospective employer.
Read the job advert carefully to identify any buzz words and key phrases, and use them when crafting the responses for your application. The objective here is to match the skills and qualities required to succeed in the position to stand out as a viable candidate.
The information you find in the ad can also be used to write your CV and craft a winning cover letter. Remember that when accompanying your online application with attachments to make sure that they’re aptly named so that they’re easily distinguishable – for example, ‘John Smith CareerAddict Apprenticeship CV’. This is particularly important for email applications.
Be Attentive to Detail
In the Jobvite report we mentioned previously, 72 per cent of UK recruiters admitted they would dismiss an application with just one or two typos. Therefore, double and triple-checking your application and CV is essential for success. You could also opt to use a spellchecker tool, but you should definitely get a human proofreader (a friend, family member or even professional editor) to look over it for any embarrassing mistakes a spellchecker might miss.
However, grammar and spelling mistakes aren’t the only things you should keep an eye out for when writing your application. Make sure that you’ve used the correct company name and that you’ve also spelt it right – and don’t forget to check that you haven’t provided the wrong contact information! (On a side note, make sure your email address is a professional one and not something like firstname.lastname@example.org.)
How to Nail an Apprenticeship Interview
Apprenticeship interviews are no different than those for a ‘normal’ job. They require the same degree of preparation, participation and professionalism, and they can be just as nerve-racking and frustrating. To help you succeed, we’ve put together a bunch of tips for you to impress the hiring manager and increase your chances of securing the position.
Before the Interview
- Plan Your Journey: The first step to nailing any type of interview is making a great first impression, and getting lost on your way – and, in effect, arriving late – does not help you achieve that. Therefore, it’s important to find out exactly where you need to go (use Google Maps, if you need to), how long it will take you to get there and what is the best way to get there. Don’t forget to do a test run!
- Research the Company: Do your homework ahead of time, and learn as much as you can about the company and the position you’re applying for. What do they do? Who are their competitors? Who are their customers? What problems are they currently facing? The more information you have, the more confident you’ll feel and the more successful you’ll be.
Practice: Create a list of the different types of possible questions you will be asked in an interview and practice your answers with a friend or a family member who will be able to provide you with constructive criticism on what you can improve. You could even test your interview skills by setting up a mock interview with a career coach or counsellor. Use the selection of questions below to help you practice:
- What attracted you to this role?
- What are your main strengths?
- What skills would you like to improve during this apprenticeship?
- The training for this apprenticeship includes undertaking qualifications while working full-time, and may be demanding at times. How would you organise yourself to balance your study and work, and ensure you complete your work on time?
- Confirm Your Attendance: Once you’ve been invited for an interview, make sure to confirm your attendance either by phone or via email at the earliest opportunity. If you don’t, the hiring manager might assume that you’re uninterested in the job.
- Double-Check the Appointment Time and Date: Don’t make the mistake of showing up for your interview at the wrong time or, worse, wrong day. Be sure to make a note of when and where your meeting is taking place (either in your calendar or on your smartphone) as well as who to ask for upon your arrival.
At the Interview
- Dress to Impress: Whether you’re applying for an apprenticeship as an office administrator or a plumber, it’s important to dress smartly for your interview as it shows that you actually care about the job. Business casual attire will do: khakis and a shirt for men, and a knee-length (or longer) skirt and blouse for women.
- Take Everything You Need with You: This includes extra copies of your CV, a list of references, any relevant certifications you’ve obtained as well as a pen and notebook to take notes during the interview.
- Arrive on Time: Aim to arrive up to 60 minutes before your scheduled meeting. Find a Starbucks (or coffee shop of your choice) nearby to wait it out and go over your notes, and start making your way to the place of your interview about 15 minutes before it’s supposed to start. If, for whatever reason, you won’t be able to make it on time, make sure to call ahead and notify the hiring manager you’re running late.
- Be Polite: To everyone you meet. A receptionist or a cleaner might be asked about what they thought of you in whatever little interaction they had with you, and if you were rude to them (whether intentionally or not) could work against you when it’s time to make a decision.
- Mind Your Body Language: Offer a firm handshake, make eye contact, sit up straight in your seat, smile and remember to mirror your interviewer’s own body language (subtly, of course).
- Don’t Interrupt the Interviewer: It’s incredibly rude. You’ll have plenty of time to talk when it’s your turn, so make sure you listen carefully to what the interviewer is saying and allow them to finish talking before you respond.
- Think Before You Answer: There’s nothing wrong with taking a little time to answer the questions the hiring manager fires your way. After all, it’s better to take a little longer to produce a well-crafted and thought-out response than simply blurt out an unimpressive one. Think out each question and focus on why you would be great at the job when delivering your response. Remember to answer questions confidently and positively, to speak clearly and to avoid rambling on.
- Ask Questions: Show employers that you really are interested in the company and the job by preparing a list of questions to ask at the end of the interview. Even if they cover everything you wanted to know about the position, it’s important to have three to five backup questions on standby. This is also a great opportunity to find out what happens next in the hiring process: when can you expect a reply? Will only successful candidates be contacted or will they notify unsuccessful ones, too?
After the Interview
- Send a Thank You Note: Make sure to send a quick thank you email within 24-48 hours of your interview. Not only is it courteous to thank your interviewers for taking the time out of their busy schedules to meet you, but it also provides you with the opportunity to confirm your interest in the position and also remind them how your skills and experience are a good match for the position.
- Don’t Take It Personally If You Are Unsuccessful: Remember, there’s a lot of competition, so don’t be disheartened if you don’t get the apprenticeship. Simply ask the hiring manager for feedback on why you weren’t suitable for the role and how you can improve.
What to Do When Your Apprenticeship Ends
What happens after you’ve completed your apprenticeship? What are the next steps you should take in your career? You have four main options:
Remain with Your Current Employer
A lot of apprentices are offered full-time positions after they complete the programme. However, it’s important to remember that permanent employment is not guaranteed. The key here is to ensure that you perform to the best of your ability in the job and contribute positively to the company’s goals if you want to be kept on.
It’s a good idea to have a discussion with your supervisor about what their plans for you are. Knowing this kind of information can help you assess the situation and make a carefully thought-out decision when the time comes. It’s also important to check out what other professionals in your field with the same experience and qualifications as you are making, so that you can ensure you get paid what you’re truly worth.
Find a New Job
If you would like to move onto another organisation, the skills and experience you have developed will prove valuable when looking for a new job. You’ll also have an edge over recent graduates who, while they do have the relevant qualifications, you’ll have both the qualifications and the experience to succeed in the role you apply for.
Further Your Education
It’s not uncommon to move onto pursuing higher education courses. The qualifications you gain in the programme are worth UCAS points, making it easier for you to apply for and gain a place in a university.
Set Up Your Own Business
You will also be able to transfer the skills you have developed and the knowledge you have acquired into starting your own business. Self-employment is a great option if you want to be your own boss, enjoy a more flexible work schedule, earn more money and pursue your passion.
Although apprenticeships have a bad reputation, the fact remains they’re an excellent option for those wanting to start a career in their chosen field. And with the help of the tips, advice and guidance provided here, you’re bound to succeed.
Do you have anything you’d like to add? Join the conversation below and let us know what you think!