Future You podcast transcript

Would an apprenticeship be right for me?

January, 2023

On this episode of Future You we speak to Helen Kennedy-Holleman, who is the head of apprenticeships at Leeds Business School, about the various factors that might make you suitable for an apprenticeship route


In order of first appearance:

  • Henry Godfrey-Evans - editorial assistant, Prospects
  • Helen Kennedy-Holleman - head of apprenticeships at Leeds Business School


Henry Godfrey-Evans: A degree apprenticeship allows you to earn a wage while achieving a full Bachelors or Masters degree. You won't pay any tuition fees and you'll make industry contacts from day one. If you want to gain valuable on-the-job experience then a degree apprenticeship is an avenue worth exploring

Hello, and welcome to Future You the podcast brought to you by graduate careers experts Prospects. We're here to help with your career goals.

My name is Henry Godfrey-Evans and in this episode I speak to Helen Kennedy-Holleman who is the head of apprenticeships at Leeds business school. She's here to explain what a degree apprenticeship involves the benefits of doing one and the criteria for applying. Okay, so Helen, would you like to introduce yourself?

Helen Kennedy-Holleman: Yes, so I'm currently the school head of apprenticeships for the business school at Leeds Beckett University. I've been involved in apprenticeships and work-based learning at different universities for the past 11 years. And prior to that I worked for the career service in Wales. I'm also an apprentice myself. I'm currently completing the senior leader apprenticeship.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Okay, and what does an apprenticeship involve?

Helen Kennedy-Holleman: An apprenticeship is a paid job with real responsibilities that give you the opportunity to earn qualifications and gain hands-on practical experience at the same time. Apprentices enjoy the exact same terms and conditions as all other employees. Alongside their training on the job, apprentices spend approximately 20% of their time off the job completing a nationally-recognised qualification with a university or a college or a training provider. This can be via day release or block release. That depends on the individual apprenticeship. The degree isn't an apprenticeship but exactly the same as a degree you would get if you went to university full time. It's just that they're delivered in a different way, usually over a longer period of time. And the duration of an apprenticeship differs from course to course.

Helen Kennedy-Holleman: Each apprenticeship has something called a standard. And it's the standard that that sets out the knowledge, skills and behaviors that apprentices must demonstrate to be assessed as competent to perform their job. The standard is actually developed by employers, and it outlines what apprentices will learn over the course of their apprenticeship and how they will be assessed.

Helen Kennedy-Holleman: And I think it's important to mention that apprentices are supported by an academic mentor within the university and an employer mentor in the workplace. Although the terminology for these roles can vary between different organisations, the apprentice, the academic mentor and the employer mentor meet together regularly to review the apprentices progress and to guide and support them, and importantly, to ensure that there are opportunities within the workplace for the apprentice to put into practice the theories they've learned at university.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: What type of person would suit an apprenticeship?

Helen Kennedy-Holleman: I wouldn't want to make any sweeping generalisations here because apprenticeships are suitable to many individuals depending on their career aspirations, individual circumstances and preferred learning styles. Apprenticeships can open up university education to those who previously may have thought it was not for them, as well as enabling those who didn't follow the traditional school-college-university pathway to still gain a degree further down their career journey without breaking from employment.

Helen Kennedy-Holleman: And apprenticeships are also available to new hires as well as existing employees. And there's no upper age limit.

Helen Kennedy-Holleman: So for new hires, some school leavers are ready for a change from the classroom they'd rather get on the career ladder straightaway. And an apprenticeship allows them to gain valuable work experience, financial independence and achieve qualifications at the same time. Whereas for existing employees, an apprenticeship can enable them to update their knowledge and skills to reinvigorate their careers, keep themselves marketable and possibly gain a promotion. So I think it's more about personal preferences. Some people may prefer to earn while they learn and like to be able to practically apply what they learn rather than undertake a purely academic course. So it's not so much about tight but more about preference.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Okay, you seemed to touch on the benefits there, but what other benefits are there to do an apprenticeship?

Helen Kennedy-Holleman: So with an apprenticeship you earn while you learn, apprentices earn a salary from the moment they start. degree apprentices are awarded the exact same degree qualification from university as those who undertake the full-time undergraduate or postgraduate route, however, apprentices do not pay tuition fees because tuition fees are paid by the employer, meaning that apprentices leave university debt-free. And at the same time, apprentices are entitled to the same benefits as full-time students. So for example, they get a student card and all the associated student discounts, access to the library and health and wellbeing services.

Through an apprenticeship, apprentices learn the skills and knowledge that the employer feels are the most relevant to their role. And that means they are job-ready and highly employable with lots of transferable skills. Having the blend of academic knowledge and so much practical experience means apprentices can often progress quickly through their organisation or industry.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Okay, so there's a bit of practical and a bit of theory, how do apprenticeships tend to split those?

Helen Kennedy-Holleman: So when an apprentice works 30 plus hours per week, they receive an average of six hours off-the-job training each week, and apprentices who work part time, so that is fewer than 30 hours per week, receive 20% of their time off the job over an extended duration. The off-the-job time is where they learn the theory which can be practically applied when they're in the workplace. So you're looking at roughly an 80:20 split between work and university. Some apprenticeships are on a day-release basis. Others are block-release, meaning the apprentices attend university every few weeks for several days at a time. It varies between apprenticeships.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Okay and which sectors or roles offer apprenticeships more often than not?

Helen Kennedy-Holleman: So there are currently 819 apprenticeship standards on the Institute for Apprenticeships website. And that's across 15 different sectors. So the choice is vast. And that number changes as new apprenticeship standards are developed. So I won't reel them all off too. But examples of sectors include things like business and administration, legal finance and accounting. You've got your digital technologies, construction, engineering, health, and so on.

There are so many apprenticeships to choose from that I would recommend that if anybody's interested in doing an apprenticeship, they visit the apprenticeships website. So that would be if you just Google 'Institute for apprenticeships', and you can access the full list of apprenticeship standards. And I would also encourage those interested to seek appropriate careers advice from their local authority or from education providers.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Okay, and what range does an apprenticeship salary usually come between? Is it enough to live on, even in places like London?

Helen Kennedy-Holleman: That's a difficult question to answer because an apprentices wage is determined by their employer. So there is a national minimum wage for apprentices. But typically employers will pay more than that, especially at degree-level apprenticeships. And I mentioned earlier that apprenticeships can be new hires or employers can choose to upskill members of their existing workforce via an apprenticeship. So for employees who are already working in the organisation, they will just retain their existing wage, and they may achieve promotion on completion of their qualification. But for an apprentice's starting wage, I would expect it would be in line with the national average graduate starting salaries. So you're looking at around £22,000 to £25,000, depending on region, possibly a bit more in the London area.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: So what should people look for when they're choosing an apprenticeship?

Helen Kennedy-Holleman: So the first thing that you need to do after you've decided that an apprenticeship role is for you, and it may be beneficial to speak to a careers advisor first, is to find an employer. So this is just like looking for any other job and it's a very competitive process. So to help you search for opportunities, the government has a dedicated website where employers post their vacancies. So that's 'gov.uk/apply-apprenticeship'. And if you go onto that website, you can search by employer, job title and location. Another thing that you could do is search the recruitment pages of the websites of companies that you're interested in working for you. Once you've secured a job offer, you'll need to decide upon your training provider and sometimes employers will already have existing relationships in place with particular training providers, but if not, I would recommend that anybody considering an apprenticeship does some research first and could look at things like Ofsted reports.

There's a website called 'ratemyapprenticeship.co.uk' and the ESFA that's the Education and Skills Funding Agency. They've also got - it's almost like a TripAdvisor style feedback feature. So if you go on to find an apprenticeship.service.gov.uk, you can look at apprentice feedback on apprenticeships.

If you know somebody that's already doing an apprenticeship with a particular employer or training provider, you can ask them about their experience. I would strongly recommend that anyone interested in an apprenticeship attends open days at universities if they're looking at degree apprenticeships, and also look at any accolades that the provider might have. For example, if it's a university, you could look at their teaching excellence framework rating.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Okay, and is there any special eligibility criteria when selecting apprenticeships?

Helen Kennedy-Holleman: Yes, there's a few important things to mention. And so to be eligible for an apprenticeship in England, apprentices must spend over 50% of their time working in England over the duration of the apprenticeship and they must have the right to work in England. They must not already be on an apprenticeship. And it's important to mention as well that the contract of employment that they have must be long enough for them to complete the apprenticeship program. So for example, if you're interested in a three year apprenticeship, but you're on a two-year fixed-term contract, you wouldn't then be eligible because your contract would expire before the end of the apprenticeship. So you can absolutely do an apprenticeship if you're on a fixed term contract, but the contract would have to be of sufficient duration for the apprentice to complete the program.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Okay, and final question: what advice you have for anyone considering an apprenticeship?

Helen Kennedy-Holleman: So I think it's important to weigh up the advantages and the disadvantages. In my personal opinion, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. However, the 'apprenticeship experience' at university is different to the experience of what I will call 'traditional students'. Apprentices don't live on campus, they will only be on campus for up to 20% of their time, and the rest of the time they're at work. So they have to balance demanding jobs alongside study. And that can sometimes be a challenge, especially if they've got children and or caring commitments. So ultimately, it's a personal choice as to the university experience you would like and how you would like to gain your qualification.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Okay, I think we've got just about everything. So thank you for coming in, Helen.

Helen Kennedy-Holleman: Thank you for having me, Henry, pleasure to talk to you.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Thanks a lot to Helen for that. If you'd like to see what opportunities Leeds Beckett University are offering, then visit Leedsbeckett.ac.uk, which will be in the episode description. You can also search for apprenticeship vacancies and get lots of advice and tips at prospects.ac.uk. Thanks for listening and we'll see you next episode.

Note on transcripts

These transcripts are produced using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. The audio version is definitive and should be checked before quoting.

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