What is an Apprenticeship?

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​What is an apprenticeship? It’s a real job with professional training. Apprentices receive on-the-job training and work towards nationally recognised qualifications. For employers, apprenticeships are a pathway to building a skilled workforce. For career-conscious young people, they are an opportunity to earn while they learn, and start a career.

More and more young people are choosing to do apprenticeships after they finish school or college. In fact, there were over 1.65 million applications submitted last year to employers across the UK, in a crazy range of industries and job roles.

‘Why is everyone talking about apprenticeships,’ you might be thinking, ‘why the excitement?’

This is your essential guide to modern apprenticeships; how they work, the different levels, and advice on how to find the best schemes. Read on to find out why so many of your peers are taking the apprenticeship path.


How do apprenticeships work?

An apprentice divides their time between work and study. They will spend the majority of their apprenticeship in the workplace, developing the technical and practical skills that are required for a particular job role.

When an apprentice is not at work, they will be studying at a college or training centre. If the scheme is organised by a small or medium sized company, they are likely to send the apprentice to a local college. Larger companies will typically use an internal training provider, and keep the training in-house. At college, apprentices work towards various qualifications, depending on the level of the scheme, and the industry it relates to.

The combination of on-the-job training with academic study ensures the candidate has the practical experience, the skills and the qualifications they need to begin a successful career

The division of work and study will depend on the company that organises the scheme. In some cases, the apprentice will spend four days in a week at work, with one day off to study and attend college. Other schemes are organised in a way that the apprentice will work on a full-time basis for consecutive weeks, and have extended breaks, or ‘block releases’ to attend college.

Apprentices are paid a salary for both work and study periods. It is magical. 


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What are the different apprenticeship levels?

Modern apprenticeships have been divided into four tiers; intermediate, advanced, higher and degree level. Below is a summary of each tier, including the entry requirements and the qualifications on offer…

​Intermediate Apprenticeships (Level 2)

Intermediate apprenticeships are also known as level 2 schemes. They are the first tier of the modern apprenticeship, designed predominantly for 16 year olds after they finish their GCSEs. 

The entry requirements for intermediate level apprenticeships are two or more GCSE passes. Most employers include passes in English and Maths as part their requirements.

There is a second option available to you if you finish your GCSEs without the grades to qualify for a level 2 scheme. Traineeships are flexible education programmes that help young people acquire the basic skills and qualification they need to find a job or apprenticeship. These schemes can last anywhere between six weeks and six months.

​Intermediate apprentices work towards a knowledge based qualification, such as a BTEC or NVQ, and a level 2 competence qualification.

If you want to find out more about level 2 schemes, read our Guide to Intermediate Apprenticeships. Skip straight to our jobs page to see which employers offer level 2 schemes.


Advanced Apprenticeships (Level 3)

​Advanced apprenticeships are level 3 schemes, which are 18-24 months in length. They have also been designed with 16 year olds in mind, and are a great option for any young person who is looking to start a career immediately after they leave school.

​The entry requirements for these programmes are a minimum of five GCSE passes, or a completed intermediate apprenticeship (in a role similar to that which you are applying for).

​An advanced apprentice will work towards a knowledge based qualification, and a level 3 competence qualification. These are equivalent to two A levels!

Read Advanced Apprenticeship: Your Essential Guide ​for a more detailed overview. The button below will transport you to our jobs page, there are opportunities available with some of the UK’s top employers.

Department for Education, Skills Funding Agency

“Almost 900,000 funded apprentices participated on an apprenticeship in the 2015 to 2016 academic year, and up to 28,000 apprenticeship vacancies are available online at any one time.” (2017)

Higher Apprenticeships (Level 4/5)


Higher apprenticeships are divided into two tiers, level 4 and level 5. These schemes generally last around three to four years, with employers looking for candidates with at least two A levels (in related subjects) or a completed advanced apprenticeship. It is also important to note, you must be 18 years old or older to become a higher apprentice.


If these entry requirements are met, higher apprentices will work towards a level 4 competence qualification, and a knowledge based certificate - likely to be a higher national diploma (HND), a foundation degree, or even a full undergraduate degree.


If you’re considering applying for a level 4 or level 5 scheme, read Your Guide to Higher Apprenticeships, or click the button below to access our jobs page.


Degree Apprenticeships (Level 6/7)

Degree apprenticeships are the newest, and highest tier of the modern apprenticeship. They have been developed through a collaboration between the Tech Partnership and higher education institutions - including Russell Group universities.


A degree apprenticeship is an opportunity for you to get a full undergraduate or master’s degree, 3-6 years of professional work experience, and earn a salary without paying tuition fees

The entry requirements for degree apprenticeships are varied. Some employers and universities set quite specific requirements; for example, they might ask for A*-B grades in particular A level subjects. Other employers will accept applicants who have completed an advanced or higher apprenticeship, again, in a job role that is related to the scheme on offer.

A level 6 degree apprenticeship is a pathway to an undergraduate degree, while level 7 schemes are equivalent to a master’s degree.

Degree apprenticeships are a truly marvellous opportunity for you to get degree level qualifications while avoiding student debt. So read our more detailed overview of degree apprenticeships for the full picture, and visit our jobs page to see the opportunities that are currently available. 


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