Scottish Apprenticeships: A Closer Look

Scotland’s official animal is the unicorn. Its capital is Edinburgh, the first city in the world to have its own fire brigade. Those are facts about Scotland - interesting facts, you might say.

Another fact is that over 28,000 young people in Scotland started an apprenticeship last year.

More and more school and college leavers are choosing to do apprenticeships in Scotland. But why? And how do they work? What programmes are available?

Read on for a closer look at Scottish apprenticeships…

If you're in a hurry, jump ahead to:

What is an apprenticeship?

How do apprenticeships in Scotland work?

Foundation apprenticeships

Modern apprenticeships

Graduate apprenticeships

How much will you be paid?

The 5 benefits of doing an apprenticeship

How to apply

What is a Scottish apprenticeship?

Often you see descriptions of apprenticeships being like a real job. It is a real job. An apprenticeship is an opportunity to start a career at age 16-18, immediately after you finish school.

Apprentices split their time between work and study. They learn on-the-job, working alongside fellow apprentices and experienced pros, but also attend college or university to get qualifications.

In the past, people thought apprenticeships were just for plumbers and electricians. They were associated with trade industries. Well, those people were wrong - apprenticeships have evolved and are now available in a mad-range of different sectors. (All of which will be explored below.)

Doing an apprenticeship is now a real alternative to going to university. There are apprenticeships that’ll set you up for whatever career it is that you’re looking at, whether it’s in financial services, the sciences or the creative industries.

But how do they work?

scottish apprenticeships

How do apprenticeships in Scotland work?

Apprentices work on a full-time basis, and study towards qualifications on the side. Like a side hustle. These qualifications vary based on the level of the apprenticeship. The level of the scheme also affects the duration; more advanced schemes tend to be longer. 

The structure of apprenticeships in Scotland vary. It ultimately depends on the company that the apprentice is working for. All apprentices, however, spend the majority of their time at work, in the office, doing real work while they receive on-the-job training. When they are not at work, the apprentice will be studying at college or an external training facility. 

It's an 80/20 split between work and study. An apprentice will spend four days of their week at work, with one day off for college. Or, they'll have a number of consecutive weeks at work, with an extended period off for studying. 

All candidates are paid a wage for both work and study periods too. It’s a Scottish fairytale.

The different levels

There are three different levels of apprenticeships in Scotland - foundation, modern and graduate. Each level is designed for students at different stages of their development.

The tiers are different in the rest of the UK, but so is the currency. Let’s break it down:

Foundation Apprenticeships

Foundation apprenticeships are designed to give students a taste of a career while they’re still at school.

If you’re studying towards your Highers or Nationals 5, you can complete a foundation apprenticeship alongside your studies. It fits in around your other subjects.

You’ll have one or two days off during the week to work with an employer in your chosen field. On other occasions your time off will be spent attending college.

After 1-2 years, you’ll finish your apprenticeship with work experience and extra qualifications that are equivalent to two Scottish Highers.

There are currently foundation apprenticeships available in the following subject areas:

  • Business skills
  • Creative and digital media
  • Engineering
  • Financial services
  • Hardware and system support
  • Scientific technologies
  • Social services - children and young people
  • Social services and healthcare
  •  Software development

This short video produced by Apprenticeships Scotland gives a little bit more information about foundation apprenticeships.

Modern Apprenticeships

The term modern apprenticeships is used to describe all jobs that include work-based training in Scotland.

There are a range of qualifications on offer between SCQF 5, which is equivalent to National 5s, all the way up to SCQF 11, which is equivalent to a degree.

To qualify for a modern apprenticeship you must have reached the Scottish statutory minimum school leaving age. That’s aged 16 for most people. You also have to be:

  • Living in Scotland
  • Not in full-time education

There are four different levels of modern apprenticeship:

  • Modern apprenticeships at SCQF 5 (SVQ 2)
  • Modern apprenticeships at SCQF 6/7 (SVQ 3)  
  • Technical apprenticeships at SCQF 8/9 (SVQ 4)
  • Professional apprenticeships at SCQF 10 (SVQ 5)

Any apprentice that completes a modern apprenticeship can progress up the ladder and work towards higher qualifications.

For example, a modern apprentice at SCQF 6/7 (equivalent to Highers) can complete a graduate apprenticeship. By staying on the apprenticeship path, you could work towards a masters degree.

If you're considering taking the apprenticeship path, jump straight over to our jobs page. You can add your postcode into the search bar to find a job local to you... 

Graduate Apprenticeships

Thinking about going to university? That’s fantastic. Getting a degree is a hoot. But did you know, you can get a degree without taking the traditional university path?

Graduate apprentices work full-time, and study towards a degree on the side. They have the option of working towards a bachelors or even a masters degree.

It’s an alternative to the well-trodden path of going to university after finishing your Highers or Advanced Highers. A path that will give you 3-6 years of professional work experience.

Graduate apprenticeships have been developed through a partnership between the higher/further education sector and industry. Each scheme is designed around the needs of industry. It’s a plan to help fill skills gaps in Scotland, and young people with a new route into key industries.

Can you apply?

  • You must be aged 16 or above, but some require you to be 18 or above.
  • If you already have a degree (funded by SAAS) you can apply, as long as it’s a higher level in the same subject, or a different subject altogether. 

What's available?

  • IT: software development
  • IT: management for business
  • Civil engineering
  • Engineering: design and manufacture 
  • ... and more are being developed 

The new apprenticeships (coming soon) will include: 

  • Engineering
  • Instrumentation (whatever that is) 
  • Measurement and control
  • Business management
  • Financial services
  • Cyber security and forensics
  • Civil engineering and construction
  • Built environment
scottish apprenticeships

What universities offer GAs?

  • University of the Highlands and Islands 
  • Glasgow Caledonian University
  • Robert Gordon University
  • Glasgow Kelvin College
  • Heriot-Watt University
  • Edinburgh Napier University
  • University of the West of Scotland
  • University of Dundee
  • University of Strathclyde

How much will you be paid?

If you choose to do an apprenticeship, you’ll receive a full salary, just like you would for a regular job. Apprentices are paid for the duration of their scheme, and get a minimum of 20 days of paid holiday each year.

The current minimum wage for apprentices is £3.90 per hour. That rate applies to anyone aged 19 or below, or those in the first year of an apprenticeship.

The grey-looking table below shows the current rates of National Minimum Wage, (as of April 2019). 


Current Rate

25 and over






Under 18




The minimum wage is, by definition, the minimum you can be paid as an apprentice. The vast majority of employers pay their apprentices more than the minimum wage.

Over 300 reviews of Scottish apprenticeships were submitted on RateMyApprenticeship last year. The reviews include salary information, and according to those reviews, the average salary for an apprentice in Scotland is £17,726. Imagine how much packets of crisps you could buy with that sort of money. Mountains of them.

The 5 real benefits of doing an apprenticeship

More and more young people are choosing to do apprenticeships in Scotland.

That’s because doing an apprenticeship has real benefits. Just like drinking green tea. Here are 5 of them:

#1   When you complete an apprenticeship, you’ll gain impressive qualifications. Those qualifications are broken down above, and range from SCQF 2-11, which are equivalent to 5 GCSEs, all the way up to a masters degree.

#2   Apprentices get to work alongside experienced professionals. No matter if you’re a foundation, modern or graduate apprentice, you’ll be working alongside people who have worked in your chosen field for a number of years. It will not only be a wonder for your development, but it will give you an idea of where you could be five or ten years in the future.

#3   Apprentices earn while they learn. Earning pennies and pounds is the first step towards independence. And this is a chance to do just that. Finish school. Jump straight into your career. Earn. Learn. Plan victory speech.

#4   Doing an apprenticeship is a really positive first step on the career ladder. The combination of practical work experience, qualifications and specialist training will set you up for a career, straight after finishing school.

#5   You aren’t guaranteed a job at the end of the programme, but 71% stay with their employer after their apprenticeship. Even if you don’t stay on, you’ll be highly employable. Companies will be fighting over you like you’re the last piece of garlic bread.

scottish apprenticeships

How to apply?

Applying for an apprenticeship is similar to applying for a regular job. You’ll fill out an application form, and need to send in a CV and cover letter.

The application processes for apprenticeships do vary from apprenticeship to apprenticeship. It depends on the type of scheme you’re applying for, and the employer too.

When to apply

The majority of applications open in January or February. This is for programmes that begin in September. Some larger companies begin advertising even earlier!

Smaller business often begin advertising their roles only a month or two before the scheme starts. That means there will be a lot of foundation and modern apprenticeships going live in March and April in the lead up to September.

Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2020

Scottish Apprenticeship Week (SAW) will take place between 4-8th March in 2020. Think of it like Glastonbury for apprenticeships. Or the Fringe for careers advisers.

It’s basically a week-long celebration of apprenticeships. There are events and workshops up and down the country, aimed at current apprentices, and young people considering the apprenticeship path.

Last year, Nicola Sturgeon visited apprentices at Forth College during SAW 2019, and looked genuinely thrilled to be there. Look see! 

scottish apprenticeship week

You can find out more about Scottish Apprenticeship Week here, including an enjoyable round-up of the SAW 2019 highlights.

If you want to discover more about apprenticeships in Scotland, visit or