Learn more about apprenticeship schemes - the levels available, how these programmes work, the sectors you could work in and the entry requirements for the career path you're looking to take

How apprenticeships work

On an apprenticeship you're employed to do a real job while studying for a formal qualification - usually for one day a week either at a further education (FE) college, university or training centre.

By the end of your apprenticeship, you'll hopefully have gained the skills and knowledge needed to either succeed in your chosen career or progress to the next apprenticeship level.

What you'll learn depends on the role you're training for. However, all apprentices follow an approved study programme, which means you'll gain a nationally recognised qualification at the end of your apprenticeship.

You can search for apprenticeships in your local area at GOV.UK - Find an apprenticeship.

Apprenticeship levels

There are four levels of apprenticeship:

The qualifications you can achieve through an apprenticeship include:

  • Functional skills - GCSE-level qualifications in English, maths and IT.
  • National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) - from Level 2 (comparable to five GCSEs) up to Level 7 (similar to a postgraduate degree).
  • Technical certificates - such as BTEC diplomas, City and Guild Progression Award etc.
  • Academic qualifications - including a Higher National Certificate (HNC), Higher National Diploma (HND), foundation degree or the equivalent of a full Bachelors degree.

For more information on how some of these courses compare with one another, see our guide to undergraduate qualifications.

Apprenticeship level structures and qualifications vary across countries in the UK. If you aren't based in England, explore apprenticeships in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Types of apprenticeships

Most job sectors provide apprenticeship opportunities in the UK, including:

You'll be able to enter your chosen sector at an apprenticeship level that reflects your previous qualifications and the demands of the job.

As an apprentice, you'll be constantly developing your transferable skills, otherwise known as soft skills, which are highly valued by employers.

These include communication, teamwork and problem solving, as well as knowledge of IT and the application of numbers. Read more about the skills employers want.

Length of apprenticeships

The length of your apprenticeship will depend on factors such as:

  • the level of the apprenticeship
  • your chosen sector
  • employer requirements
  • and your individual ability.

However, apprenticeships usually last between one and six years. Their length follows a basic framework:

  • intermediate apprenticeships typically last between one year and 18 months
  • advanced apprenticeships are usually studied over two years
  • higher and degree apprenticeships take three-to-six years to complete.

It's worth checking directly with your chosen employer before applying to discover how long your course will last, as some won't follow this structure.

Apprentice wage

If you're aged under 19 and an apprentice, or 19 or over and still in your first year as an apprentice, you'll be entitled to the apprenticeship wage of £6.40 per hour (from April 2024). Apprentices aged 19 or over and who've completed their first year will be able to claim the National Minimum Wage (NMW). This has been set at £8.60 per hour (for those aged 18-20) and £11.44 (for ages 21 and above).

For more information, see GOV.UK - Become an apprentice.

This pay rate is stated as a guideline, as some employers pay you a higher wage.

You'll also be entitled to sick pay, any additional benefits your employer offers to its other employees, such as healthcare plans and childcare vouchers, and at least 20 days' paid holiday per year.

To work out your exact entitlement, visit GOV.UK - Calculate holiday entitlement.

Discover the best paying apprenticeship sectors in 2024.

Working hours

These will vary depending on your employer, but you won't be able to work more than 40 hours per week or any fewer than 30. You'll typically work between 35 and 37.5 hours per week.

The sector you're entering will determine the nature of your daily working hours. While most apprentices can expect a 9am to 5.30pm work day with an hour's break for lunch, those in hospitality or healthcare roles, for instance, should expect to work antisocial shifts.

Age limit

There's no upper age limit on being an apprentice. As long as you're over 16 and have the right credentials, you'll be eligible to apply for your chosen apprenticeship.

If you start your apprenticeship after you turn 19, you may be entitled to additional government funding.

Find out more about what's on offer at Student Finance England - Advanced Learner Loan.

Entry requirements

As each type of apprenticeship offers a different level of qualification on the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF), their entry requirements will vary.

Generally speaking, they're as follows:

  • To apply for an intermediate apprenticeship, you'll just need to be over 16 years old and no longer in full-time education.
  • For an advanced apprenticeship, you're likely to be asked for prior work experience and at least three 9-4 grade GCSEs or equivalent - such as an intermediate apprenticeship qualification.
  • As higher apprenticeships are the equivalent of a foundation degree, HNC or first year of a Bachelors, you'll usually need at least five 9-4 grade GCSEs, as well as some Level 3 qualifications in relevant subjects, to apply. Your Level 3 qualifications could be AS-levels, a BTEC National or a Level 3 NVQ.
  • Degree apprenticeships will have the tightest entry requirements. These may include three A-levels in a specified grade range or a higher apprenticeship qualification, on top of at least five 9-4 GCSE grades. It's also likely you'll be required to have prior work experience.

You can apply for apprenticeships at any time of year - whether you're successful depends on if an employer has a vacancy. You'll be able to check the entry requirements of your chosen apprenticeship once the position opens.

Apprenticeship vs internship

The terms 'apprenticeship' and 'internship' are sometimes mistakenly used interchangeably. To ensure you're applying for the right positions, it's important to understand the differences between these opportunities.

Apprenticeships are:

  • formal employment programmes and as such you'll sign a contract with your employer
  • long-term and take between one and four years to complete
  • more suited to those with a clear idea of the sector they'd like to work in and the career path they'd like to follow
  • usually undertaken by school and college leavers
  • designed to provide specific work-based training. Apprentices learn by actually doing the job
  • a way for apprentices to gain formal qualifications such as NVQs, foundation degrees and technical certificates
  • paid, as at the very least you'll receive the NMW
  • a direct route to employment, with the majority of apprentices guaranteed a job on completion of their programme.

Internships are:

  • informal arrangements, as it's typical that no employment contracts are signed
  • short-term, limited periods lasting between one week and 12 months
  • geared towards providing an insight into a role - perfect for those who may be unsure of what career direction to take
  • typically undertaken by students and graduates
  • work-based learning opportunities, which focus more on providing interns with transferable skills and experience for their CV rather than job-specific skills or formal qualifications
  • temporary, with no guarantee of employment on completion.

Learn more about what's involved in an internship.

National Apprenticeship Week 2024

Held at the start of each year, National Apprenticeship Week is a popular government initiative that brings together employers, schools, colleges, careers professionals and students to showcase apprenticeships.

There's a resource hub for prospective apprentices to find out about what's currently on offer from employers as well as the chance to interact with them and ask any questions you may have.

Read about what's planned for 2024 (from February 5-11) by visiting the National Apprenticeship Week website.

Find out more

How would you rate this page?

On a scale where 1 is dislike and 5 is like

success feedback

Thank you for rating the page