How Apprenticeships Can Help You Land The Perfect Career

In a careers market that seems intent on pushing the ‘GCSEs to A-Levels to degree to graduate work’ narrative, it’s never been more important to keep your options open. That path works just fine for a lot of people, but more and more are coming to the realisation that it isn’t for them, and that doesn’t have to shut them out of the workforce.

What is an apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship is a job which also provides training to pave the way for future opportunities. Young people get real-world experience in their chosen field, the recognised qualifications which will help them to progress, and a decent wage on top of that.

The ability to ‘earn while you learn’ appeals to people who flourish in a non-academic setting, and the success rate of going from apprentice to employee is proof that it works. According to employment 4 students, the most popular UK-based student job site, 90% of apprentices end up in full-time work after completing their apprenticeships. 70% are kept on by the same employers they apprenticed with, and nearly 25% achieve a promotion in less than a year of securing their jobs.

Even in a worst-case scenario, for that 10% of apprentices who don’t immediately find work, the time was far from wasted as they’re coming out of it with official qualifications and extensive experience of working in an industry.

How do modern apprenticeships work?

Applying for an apprenticeship is much the same as applying for a job. You search through the options available to you, apply via a dedicated website to protect your data, and wait to be called for an interview. If you’re successful, you’re on your way. If not, just refine your approach and apply again.

Just like any job application, it’s a good idea to ask for feedback if your application was unsuccessful, and you’re allowed to appeal if you feel you were discriminated against or treated unfairly during the application process.

The GOV.UK site has extensive information on the background and logistics of modern apprenticeships in England, both for prospective apprentices themselves and employers. There are also dedicated sites for apprenticeships in Scotland and Wales.

What apprenticeships are there?

You can find an apprenticeship in more or less any industry you can think of. The idea of apprenticeships being limited to, say, hairdressing or construction is seriously outdated. 2016 alone saw apprenticeships in sectors including:

  • Agriculture, Horticulture and Animal Care
  • Arts, Media and Publishing
  • Business, Administration and Law
  • Construction, Planning and the Built Environment
  • Education and Training
  • Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies
  • Health, Public Services and Care
  • Information and Communication Technology
  • Leisure, Travel and Tourism
  • Retail and Commercial Enterprise
  • Science and Mathematics

How old can you be to do an apprenticeship?

Anyone aged 16 or over, who lives in the country they want to do their apprenticeship in and isn’t currently in full-time education can apply to be an apprentice.

There is no upper age limit on who can apply for an apprenticeship. A changing world means the demands for certain skills will rise and fall as time goes on. So, for older people wanting to re-skill without taking time off work to study, apprenticeships are just as good an idea as for those just leaving school.

With this in mind, it’s even possible for existing employees to become apprentices as part of re-training, although older employees might not qualify for some funding available to others. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees can apply for funding, but only if their apprentice (or apprentices) is 24 or younger.

Can graduates apply for apprenticeships?

Yes. Apprenticeships can help you re-skill for a change of career no matter your age or existing qualifications. However, employers receive no funding for apprentices with degree-level qualifications, even if they’re still under 24. This means the employer will have to cover the entire cost of an apprenticeship and that may affect their decision.

How long does an apprenticeship last?

Apprenticeships can take between one and four years. The time an apprenticeship takes depends on its level, and the capability of the apprentice themselves. Obviously, a naturally talented apprentice with a knack for the work is going to pick things up quicker than someone who learns at a steadier pace.

The different types of apprenticeship, and the levels of qualification you get from them, are divided up as follows:

  • Intermediate apprenticeships, or level 2 apprenticeships, are the equivalent of 5 GCSEs at A* to C.
  • Advanced, or level 3 apprenticeships, are equivalent to 2 A-Levels.
  • Higher apprenticeships can cover levels 4-7, they’re the same as a foundation degree.
  • Degree apprenticeships cover levels 6 and 7, and are the equivalent of a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Generally speaking, as a guideline, an intermediate apprenticeship can take between 12 and 18 months, and an advanced apprenticeship might take about 24 months.

During this time, apprentices divide their time between working and studying in college, usually for one day each week.

Do apprentices get paid?

Yes. Apprentices are entitled to the national minimum wage for the entire duration of their apprenticeship. In 2016, the minimum wage for apprentices is £3.30 per hour, and this applies to any apprentice aged 18 or younger, as well as everyone on the first year of their apprenticeship.

Apprentices aged 19 and over are paid the national minimum wage for their age after the first year. The national minimum wage is reviewed each October and can be checked on the government’s website.

This pay is for all normal working hours, which should be at least 30 per week, and for the day each week spent studying. Apprentices are also entitled to at least 20 days of paid holiday each year, in addition to bank holidays.

Do apprentices pay tax?

Apprentices do pay income tax and national insurance, the same as any other working person. This is done through the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system, and deducted straight from wages. This means apprentices don’t need to complete a self-assessment tax return.

Can you get working tax credits on an apprenticeship?

Tax credits for apprentices are slightly trickier. While tax credits are slowly being replaced by the universal credit system, they’re likely to be in place for some time to come. As things stand, if you’re single with no children, you’re entitled to working tax credits if you are:

  • Doing at least 30 hours of paid work each week and aged 25 or over.
  • Doing at least 16 hours of paid work each week, are aged 16 or over and with a disability that might affect you getting a job.
  • Doing at least 16 hours of paid work each week and aged 60 or over.

Your apprenticeship will dictate how eligible you are for these criteria. More info on tax credits and how they might affect an apprenticeship can be found on the GOV.UK site.

Can an apprentice be made redundant?

No, not usually. It’s a tricky legal question, but precedent seems to suggest that apprentices are protected from redundancy. Such cases have been taken to court and apprentices were awarded not only the wages they lost out on, but also an amount to reflect the loss to their employability.

Of course, apprentices aren’t immune from being dismissed for things like breach of contract or gross misconduct. It’s just up to the employer to carefully assess whether their business can meet the cost of an apprentice before hiring one.

We don’t currently have an apprenticeship scheme at Beagle Street part of the BGL Group, but check out the current opportunities on BGL Careers site.