Apprentices have the opportunity to earn while they learn, gain real life experience and improve their job prospects

Apprenticeships allow you to combine work and study by mixing on-the-job training with classroom learning. You'll be employed to do a real job while studying for a formal qualification, usually for one day a week either at a college or a training centre. By the end of your apprenticeship you will hopefully have gained the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in your chosen career.

The length will depend on a number of factors such as the level of the apprenticeship, your chosen sector, employer requirements and individual ability. They can take anything between one to four years to complete. Working hours will vary depending on your employer but you'll typically work a minimum of 30 hours per week.

You can apply for apprenticeships at any time of the year - it all depends when an employer has a vacancy.

Types of apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are no longer limited to the construction and engineering trades, in recent years opportunities have expanded to include a variety of job sectors, covering hundreds of different roles.

From animal care to administration, business to building trades, catering to social care, horticulture to hairdressing and energy to engineering, you're bound to find an apprenticeship to suit your needs.

There are four different types or levels:

  • Intermediate - roughly equivalent to five good GCSE passes;
  • Advanced - equivalent to two A-level passes;
  • Higher - equivalent to the first stages of higher education such as a foundation degree;
  • Degree - comparable to a Bachelors or Masters degree. Find out more about degree apprenticeships.

Similar apprenticeship schemes are available in the rest of the UK, see:

Am I eligible?

Anyone aged 16 or over; living in England and not currently in full-time education is eligible to apply for an apprenticeship. There is no upper age limit as apprenticeships can be a great way for career changers to learn a new profession or for working professionals to achieve career progression.

Eligibility requirements vary between employers and sectors and usually depend on the type of apprenticeship you're applying for.

If you're starting with an intermediate apprenticeship it's likely that you won't need any formal qualifications or experience. You must have basic skills in English and math's, if these are lacking you can work towards building these skills as part of your apprenticeship training. If you already have GCSE grade C or above in English or math's you won't need to do this.

For advanced apprenticeships you'll need to have an intermediate apprenticeship under your belt or five GCSEs at grade A-C in any subject.

To gain a place on a higher apprenticeship you'll already have to have completed an advanced apprenticeship. Alternatively you'll need two A-level passes (in any subject) or a level 3 NVQ.

Will I be paid?

The short answer to this question is yes. The whole point of apprenticeships, and one of the main benefits, is that you'll earn a salary while you learn.

There is no single rate of pay for apprentices; this will depend on your employer and your role. However, as an apprentice you are entitled to the National Minimum Wage. The current minimum rate for an apprentice is £3.30 per hour. This rate applies to apprentice's aged 16 to 18 and those aged 19 or over who are in their first year.

If you are over 19 and have completed the first 12 months of training you will be entitled to the current National Minimum Wage rate, which is £6.70 per hour.

You must be paid for your normal hours of work and any training that is part of your apprenticeship. You'll also get at least 20 days' paid holiday per year as well as bank holidays.

For more information on the pay rate for apprentices see GOV.UK - become an apprentice - pay and conditions.

Keep in mind that this is the minimum rate of pay. Many employers will pay more than this and your salary will often increase with your training.

What will I learn?

This will depend on the role that you are training for but every apprentice follows an approved study programme, which means that you will gain a nationally recognised qualification at the end of your apprenticeship.

These qualifications can include:

  • functional skills - GCSE level qualifications in English, math's and IT;
  • National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) - from level 2 (comparable to five GCSEs) up to level 5 (similar to a postgraduate degree);
  • technical certificates - such as BTEC, City and Guild Progression Award etc.;
  • academic qualifications - including a Higher National Certificate (HNC), Higher National Diploma (HND) or a foundation degree.

You'll also have built your transferable 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.

Where can I find an apprenticeship?

Your first port of call should be a careers adviser if you have one available in your school or college. They should be able to tell you what's on offer in your area.

To find companies offering apprenticeships check local job listings or visit your job centre. Lots of employers will offer you the opportunity to apply for apprenticeships directly on their website, so check online with companies that interest you.

You can also find vacancies at:

How do I apply?

You should treat applying for an apprenticeship the same as applying for job; it's likely that you'll face some stiff competition so you'll need to really sell yourself to the employer. Be sure to research the company before making your application and find out as much about the job as possible.

Along with your CV include a cover letter explaining why you want to work for the company, why you feel your skills match what the employer is looking for and highlight what you feel you can bring to the role.

Apprenticeships cost the employer both time and money so make it clear why they should invest in you.

Just like when applying for jobs you’ll need to tailor your application to each individual apprenticeship.

What's the difference between an apprenticeship and an internship?

The terms 'apprenticeship', 'internship' and 'work experience' are sometimes used interchangeably. To ensure that 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 to four years to complete;
  • more suited to those with a clear idea of what sector they'd like to work in and what career path they'd like to follow;
  • commonly undertaken by school 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. At the very least you'll receive the National Minimum Wage;
  • a direct route to employment. The majority of apprentices are guaranteed a job on completion of their programme.

While internship and work experience placements are:

  • informal arrangements. More often than not no employment contracts are signed;
  • short-term, limited periods lasting between one week and 12 months;
  • geared towards providing an insight to 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 supplying interns with transferrable 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 internships and work experience.