Apprenticeships – What are they, and why you should do one

Apprenticeships – What are they, and why you should do one

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After you complete your online GCSE courses, it’s time to start thinking about what you want to do next. Will you go on to do A-levels and apply to university, or do you prefer to take a practical approach? If you would like to get a leg up on your career, you should consider an apprenticeship in your chosen field.

Did you know that you can undertake an apprenticeship in one of more than 1,500 different jobs in the UK? More than 70 universities and 200 colleges are licensed to offer higher and degree apprenticeships that allow you to get vital on-the-job training while earning credentials and getting paid.

In the past, people thought of apprenticeships as something only for the trades, but this is certainly no longer the case. Your parents or friends might think that a degree is the best way to a good ‘white-collar’ job, but today’s apprenticeships rival even the most elite university education. Both a degree and an apprenticeship allow you to demonstrate your work ethic, intelligence, and ability to think on your feet, and both result in valuable qualifications.

So, what’s the difference? They are two different approaches to learning. Apprenticeships are more ‘hands-on,’ while degrees are based more on traditional book learning and classroom instruction.

What are apprenticeships?

Apprenticeships are ways to train for a new job that allow you to get instruction and hands-on education while working under a trained professional.[i] While some apprenticeships include classroom instruction, others occur purely on-the-job. A trained employer teaches you the skills and knowledge you need, allowing to gain the license you need to work in certain regulated professions.

How do they work?

People have been engaging in certain forms of apprenticeships for millennia! You are paid to do a job while you simultaneously train for a formal qualification.[ii] While some apprenticeships include a lot of classroom time, others are mainly focused on on-the-job training.

How long do they last?

Most apprenticeships last between one and six years. The time span will depend on your industry, the level you are working at, and how much prior experience you have.[iii]

What apprenticeships are there?

Apprenticeships in the UK are broken down into four levels.[iv] These are:

  • Intermediate apprenticeships (Level 2)
  • Advanced apprenticeships (Level 3)
  • Higher apprenticeships (Level 4 and above)
  • Degree apprenticeships (Levels 5 — 7)

Each of these different levels has its own rules and regulations, including varying entry requirements. For higher apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships, your employer will likely require that you have A levels and/or other Level 3 qualifications. Your starting apprenticeship level will depend on your previous experience, education, and the apprenticeship standard of the employer. You can undertake an apprenticeship in more than 1,500 positions in the UK. Don’t let that overwhelm you – you can search for available apprenticeships using this official Government database.

Here are five of the most popular types of apprenticeships:[v]

  • Business, Administration, and Law  – Are you interested in banking, HR, insurance, accounting or legal professions? There are plenty of apprenticeships in these fields, including a new Level 7 Solicitor apprenticeship.
  • Retail and Commercial Enterprise – This category includes (but is not limited to) beauty, hairdressing, catering, hospitality, funeral homes, retail management, and even international trade and logistics.
  • Health, Public Services, and Care – Learn valuable skills and get on-the-job training in care leadership, pharmacy, policing, and HM Forces, emergency care, firefighting, and court, tribunal and prosecution admin.
  • Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies – This is a fast-paced industry that includes engineering construction, gas, manufacturing processes, heating and ventilation, rail engineering, and nuclear.
  • Construction, Planning, and the Built Environment – Earn a level 5 – 7 apprenticeship in construction management, civil engineering, plumbing, heating, and surveying.

Average apprenticeship wages

As an apprentice, you will earn at least the National Minimum Wage for apprentices, which is currently £4.15 per hour (for under 19s, and over 19s who are in the first year of their apprenticeship).[vi] Remember, you will also acquire educational credits and certifications while you are earning your wages, so the real value of your work is much higher.

You are legally entitled to be paid for:

  • Up to one week of training for your apprenticeship
  • Your normal working hours
  • At least 20 days of paid holiday each year
  • Bank holidays


If you work hard and put a lot of effort into your studies, you can get a lot out of your apprenticeship!

At the end of your apprenticeship, you’ll receive a nationally recognised qualification. These include:[viii]

  • National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) – from Level 2 (equivalent to five GCSEs) through to Level 5 (which is comparable to a postgraduate degree)
  • Functional skills – You can earn GCSE level qualifications in maths, IT, and English
  • Specific academic qualifications – These include Higher National Certificates (HNC), Higher National Diplomas (HND), and foundation degrees. In some cases, you can also earn the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree.
  • Technical certificates – You can earn certain technical certificates, including BTEC and City and Guild Progression Awards.

While earning these tangible qualifications, you will also be enhancing and learning all sorts of new skills that will transfer into your working life. Soft skills, such as communication, problem-solving, and working within a team, are all desirable attributes that employers want. As you work alongside experienced experts, you will build your skills, knowledge, and competency.

How to get an apprenticeship

Follow these steps to apply for – and get – an apprenticeship.[ix]

  • Reach out to your networks – Never hesitate to ask former employers, teachers, and personal connections if they would be willing to help you find an apprenticeship with their organisation.
  • Search the official ‘Find an Apprenticeship’ site – Start by heading to the official Government “Find an Apprenticeship” site and start scrolling through the opportunities. You can filter the search by keywords, radius, and levels, or you can browse through everything that is available.
  • Tailor your CV – The next step to getting an apprenticeship is to start tailoring your CV to the field in which you are interested. Don’t worry if you don’t have a lot to add under your experience heading – our potential apprenticeship knows that you are likely just starting out in your career. Include your education, volunteer work, and relevant hobbies.
  • Apply for the job and prepare for the interview – After you apply for the job, it’s time to wait to see if you make the shortlist and get invited for an interview. If you do, make sure that you brush up on your interview skills, and do some homework on the company. That way, you can ask educated and intelligent questions, and get to know their corporate culture.

Pros & Cons of apprenticeships

Everyone considering an apprenticeship should make their own list of pros and cons. Here are some of the things you should think about when drafting your list and making your decision.


  • Network with leaders in your industry and make valuable connections for your future
  • Gain soft skills, like communication and problem solving
  • Earn nationally recognised qualifications or a degree
  • Get a job in a field that challenges and fulfils you
  • You won’t accrue massive student loan debts
  • You’ll get a taster of the job you plan to do for the rest of your life



  • The wages are meager, and you may need to take out small loans or live with your parents to make ends meet
  • You likely won’t have enough free time to get a part-time job
  • You’ll have to work hard and study a lot

Are apprenticeships worth it?

Everyone has their own preferences for education. But when it comes to getting on-the-job training while earning an income and making connections in your field, nothing beats an apprenticeship. Not only will you get a great job in an industry you care about, but you will finish your education without huge student loan debt. What do you think – is an apprenticeship worth it for you?

Reference list

Creative Alliance (2016). Level 2,3 And 4 Apprenticeships … What’s The Difference? [online] Creative Alliance. Available at: [Accessed 23 Jul. 2020].

Government Digital Service (2012). Become an apprentice. [online] GOV.UK. Available at: [Accessed 23 Jul. 2020].

HM Government (2019a). Everything you need to know about apprenticeships and how to become one. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Jul. 2020].

HM Government (2019b). How to apply for an apprenticeship and what’s needed from you. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Jul. 2020].

Knowles, E. (2019). What is an apprenticeship? | [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Jul. 2020].

Not Going To Uni (2016). Five Most Popular Types of Apprenticeship. [online] Notgoingtouni. Available at: [Accessed 23 Jul. 2020].

Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (2017). UCAS. [online] UCAS. Available at: [Accessed 23 Jul. 2020].

Wikipedia Contributors (2020). Apprenticeship. [online] Wikipedia. Available at: [Accessed 23 Jul. 2020].

Worksmart (2018). What can I expect to gain from an apprenticeship? | WorkSmart: The career coach that works for everyone. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Jul. 2020].










Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
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