Learn more about the different apprenticeship levels, how these programmes work, the sectors you could work in and the entry requirements for the path you'd like to take

Apprenticeships at a glance

  • Combine on-the-job training with classroom learning.
  • Study from intermediate (GCSE equivalent) to degree level.
  • Apprenticeships take between one and six years to complete.
  • You'll earn at least the National Minimum Wage while you train.

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 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, apprentices in every role follow an approved study programme, which means you'll gain a nationally-recognised qualification at the end of your apprenticeship.

These qualifications can 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 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), foundation degree or the equivalent of a full Bachelors degree.

For more information, see our guide to qualifications.

You'll also 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.

Apprenticeship levels

There are four different levels of apprenticeship:

  • Intermediate - 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 at degree apprenticeships.

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

Types of apprenticeships

Most job sectors offer apprenticeship opportunities in the UK, with a wide range of specific roles on offer within each. These include:

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

Length of apprenticeships

The length of your apprenticeship will depend on a number of 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 check how long your course will last, as some won't follow this structure.

Pay rates and working hours

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 £4.81 per hour. Apprentices aged 19 or over and who've completed their first year will be able to claim the National Minimum Wage (NMW). From April 2022, this has been set at £6.83 per hour (for those aged 18-20), £9.18 (21-22) and £9.50 (23 and above). For more information, see GOV.UK - Become an apprentice.

This pay rate is stated as a guideline - 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 of paid holiday per year. Visit GOV.UK - Calculate holiday entitlement to work out your exact entitlement.

'At Jisc we offer well over the minimum apprenticeship wage. Our apprentices learn quickly and add lots of value, so we want to reflect this in their pay. For example, the starting pay for an apprentice at Jisc doing a degree level apprenticeship is £21,000 and rises each year they are with us,' explains Louise Mitchell, senior talent acquisition lead at Jisc.

Working hours vary depending on your employer, but you won't be able to work more than 40 hours per week or any fewer than 30. Typically, you'll 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 to work a 9am-5.30pm 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-levelled qualification on the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF), their entry requirements will vary. Generally speaking, they are 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 specific entry requirements of your chosen apprenticeship once the position opens.

Employer view

Louise offers her top three tips for anyone considering an apprenticeship:

  • Recognise that apprenticeships aren't an easy option. Not only are you studying, but you're also working 80% of a full-time role. You will need to study at the evenings and weekends. However, it's completely worth it - not only can you gain a degree, but you do so without incurring student debt, get to earn a salary and have the advantage of several years' work experience that your peers graduating from a traditional degree won't have.
  • Look carefully into the study method and make sure you choose a course that's right for you. Some will offer the opportunity for weekly face-to-face classes, whereas others will be almost entirely online, and a range in between.
  • Be careful about where you do your apprenticeship. Try to find testimonials or speak to other apprentices at the organisation. The quality of experience can vary dramatically between different companies.

The difference between an apprenticeship and an 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 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, 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 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 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.

Find out more

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