Are you wondering what to do now you’ve finished school? Your GCSEs or A-levels are over, you’ve said farewell, but what now? If you’re unsure about going to university, you have two options. Join the circus, or bag yourself some extra qualifications that can help in your future career.

The circus is tempting, it has claimed many school leavers, but there’s a lot of back-flipping involved. Most of us don’t happen to breathe fire, or have a talent for rhythmic gymnastics. Perhaps then, if university or the circus are not the right path, you should consider doing an apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships For School Leavers

What is an apprenticeship?

In a nutshell, apprenticeships are periods of time in which you'll partake in practical training while also spending some time working towards a relevant qualification.

Apprenticeship schemes cater to school leavers or young people between the ages of 16 to 24, as a potential alternative to going to sixth form or university.

This involves working with experienced staff who can teach you the ins and outs of a profession. Apprentices learn from the best; the seasoned pro’s who know their way around a building site or a trading floor, and know where the best sandwich shops are.

From these experienced professionals, apprentices acquire important skills that are relevant to an industry. Alongside practical skills, apprentices gain a nationally certified qualification.

Apprenticeship vacancies →

Apprenticeships are smashing, and the tall fellow from Dragons Den agrees.

“My experience in business has highlighted how new talent can really invigorate a company. Apprentices can work in a huge range of roles in a business and the businesses benefit just as much as the Apprentices themselves.” (Peter Jones CBE, Entrepreneur)

Modern apprenticeships

Modern apprenticeships provide an alternative route for the school leaver. It has become commonplace for the majority of 16 year olds to go to sixth form after their GCSEs, or head straight off to university after A-levels. It’s time to buck the trend, or in the words of Fleetwood Mac, to go your own way.

Apprenticeships are designed to offer school leavers another way of working towards important qualifications. Instead of a sole focus on studying, apprentices have the opportunity to soak-up career-enhancing skills.

Lucy is doing an apprenticeship with Accenture. She absolutely loves it. Watch her story here:

How do apprenticeships work?

Apprentices work for a minimum of 30 hours a week for 30 weeks a year. The structure of each apprenticeship can vary depending on the type of scheme and employer that you work for.

An apprentice’s time is split between full-time work with an industry leading company, and time spent studying for a qualification. Some employers ask you to work four days a week and study for the fifth day, while others will ask you to attend college for a few weeks at a time, in-between periods spent working for the employer.

An apprenticeship is a fantastic option for school leavers because they finish their course with a qualification and relevant work experience.

If you thought it couldn’t get any better, you were wrong. Apprentices are paid for the duration of their apprenticeship.

You’ll have to keep reading to find out the full pay structure for apprenticeships. If you’re already converted, have a peek at our apprenticeship vacancies.

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Why should I do an apprenticeship?

Why should you do an apprenticeship? That is a cracking question.

If you’re looking to start a career, and the thought of university bends your bones, an apprenticeship is a great alternative.

If you're the kind of person who wants to feel like you're proactively upskilling yourself and taking strides forward in your development, apprenticeship programs are something to seriously consider.

While graduates leave university with a degree, their studies often don’t impart the skills that employers look for. Degree programmes tend to be individual-centric. Apprentices on the other hand work in real professional environments; they develop the soft skills that entice employers.

On top of this, apprenticeships are designed by the employers to ensure that apprentices are developing the relevant skills for a job. Even if there isn’t the promise of permanent position at the end of the course, apprentices are work-ready. They can make a smooth transition between their apprenticeship and a skilled profession.

"85% of apprentices said their ability to do the job had improved, and 83% of apprentices said their career prospects had improved." (Key facts about apprenticeships, Skills Funding Agency, 2016)

Apprenticeships are also debt-free. A student will have accumulated an average of £44,000 of debt by the time they have graduated. £44,000! You could buy a lot of turnips with that sort of money. Before you send off your UCAS application and move into halls, it would be a good idea to check if your desired career even needs a degree.

If you choose to do an apprenticeship, you can earn while you qualify and there are fantastic career opportunities waiting at the end.

Perhaps another Dragon can convince you of the merits of doing an apprenticeship. This Dragon looks bored as he listens to most the pitches, but before long, he pounces. He slates the product, picks holes in the business plan and humiliates the poor, budding entrepreneur, declaring “I’m out!”

He’s big on apprenticeships though...

“The great thing about Apprenticeships is that people can earn while they learn. The feedback from our Apprentices is overwhelmingly positive as the experience builds confidence and increases their overall understanding of business." (Theo Paphitis, Entrepreneur, Chairman of Ryman Stationery)

Which industries offer apprenticeships?

Some of the UK’s biggest companies offer apprenticeships in a wide-range of industries. Below is a list of the industries that have apprenticeship places available.

What are the different types of apprenticeship?

There are three types of apprenticeship, intermediate, advanced and higher. There are different entry requirements for each, and each of these apprenticeships are equivalent to qualifications you can receive at school.

We’ll start with intermediate apprenticeships.

Apprenticeship Industries

Intermediate apprenticeships (level 2)

An intermediate apprenticeship is also called a level 2 apprenticeship. It has two names, like that one friend that we all have, whose name is Steven, but everyone calls him Pete.

This type of apprenticeship has been designed for students with two or more GCSEs at A*- C level. If you don’t meet the entry requirements, there is the option of completing a traineeship to prepare you for an intermediate apprenticeship. Some employers will accept apprentices if they have relevant work experience, so make sure you check the entry requirements for each job!

"There were 298,300 intermediate apprenticeship starts in 2014/15, that represents 60% of all apprenticeships in the England last year." (Research Briefings, Apprenticeship statistics for England: 1996-2015)

Intermediate apprentices spend the majority of their time working with an employer, developing skills on-the-job, while studying towards a vocational qualification. Vocational qualifications are designed to give the student the knowledge and skills to perform a particular job.

At the end of an intermediate apprenticeship, you will have gained a qualification equivalent to five GCSEs. After this, you can work towards a BTEC, or begin an advanced apprenticeship.

Find intermediate apprenticeships →

Advanced apprenticeships (level 3)

If you walk around Greggs or your local career advice centre, you’ll see people in huddles, whispering about advanced apprenticeships and level 3 apprenticeships. There’s no need to panic, they are exactly the same thing.

An advanced apprenticeship is the step above an intermediate apprenticeship, but operates similarly. The entry requirements for advanced apprenticeships are 5 GCSEs A*- C. An advanced apprentice will work as a full-time employee, and attend college or an in-house training centre on a day release basis.

If you complete an advanced apprenticeship, you will be rewarded with a level 3 NVQ, and a knowledge-based qualification. These qualifications are equivalent to two A-levels. If you click here, you can read a case study of an Artwork and Design advanced apprenticeship with GSK.

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Higher apprenticeships (level 4/5)

When a higher apprentice walks into a room, everybody stops talking. There is an eerie silence. One person claps, then another, and soon enough, the entire room is cheering and stamping their feet. The crowd demands autographs, selfies and a speech.

If you like the sound of this adoration, the required grades for a higher apprenticeship are typically two A-levels or an advanced apprenticeship. A higher apprenticeship can be the equivalent of a foundation degree, Higher National Diploma (HND) or Higher National Certificate (HNC).

The length of this type of apprenticeship is dependent on the employer. Regulations require higher apprenticeships to last at least 12 months, but most apprentices are employed for 18 to 24 months.

In a survey commissioned by the Department for Business, 500 employers were asked to rate on a scale of 1-10, how employable they considered people with different qualifications to be. People with higher apprenticeships scored 7.98 overall, while university graduates scored 7.58. (Source: Nick Collins, The Telegraph, 8 April 2013)

Higher apprentices are highly employable; you are just one click away from becoming one.

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Degree Apprenticeships

The government have unveiled a new type of apprenticeship... the degree apprenticeship. It is an opportunity to get a degree without paying tuition fees, while getting work experience with some of the UK’s biggest companies. Degree apprenticeships are a marvellous opportunity, so click here to find out more.

Just in case...

Just in case you were wondering, and getting a little agitated, apprenticeship levels start at level 2 for a reason. Surprisingly, it isn’t because somebody at the Department of Education has lost their mind.

Qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are generally grouped into different levels. These levels cover everything from GCSEs to bachelor degrees and PhD’s. Intermediate level apprenticeships jump in at level two, which is the equivalent level as GCSEs (A*-C grades), O levels (A-C grades) and NVQ level 2. Level one refers to different qualifications, including GCSEs (D-G grades) and NVQ level 1.

Apprenticeship Qualifications

Whichever apprenticeship scheme you wish to get stuck into should depend on your learning style and preferences. If you’re not a keen academic and you want to kick-start your career as soon as possible, an intermediate or advanced apprenticeship might be right up your street.

If you want to continue your studies at sixth form before making up your mind about which path to follow, you might find that a higher apprenticeship is just the ticket. Either way, all apprenticeship schemes offer you the chance to learn, earn and develop your skills at the same time.

Apprenticeship Salary

It’s time to have a look at the numbers, and see how many beans you could accumulate if you do apprenticeship. (Hint: it’s a lot of beans).

Apprentices are paid for the duration of their apprenticeship. The apprentice wage depends upon your age and the type of apprenticeship you are doing.

Below is a table showing the rates of the National Minimum Wage. For more information on apprenticeship pay,

Age 25 and over 21 - 24 18 - 20 Under 18 Apprentice
Current Rate £7.20 £6.70 £5.30 £3.87 £3.30

The minimum wage for apprenticeships applies to anyone who is below the age of 19, or anyone who is older and in the first year of an apprenticeship.

If you apply this minimum wage to the minimum hours an apprentice will work, you end up with a figure between £8,500 - £9,000. This is the minimum salary for an apprentice in the UK.

Apprenticeships in London

Some of the world’s biggest companies have their headquarters in London. There is no question, the capital is the epicentre for apprenticeships in the UK. PwC, IBM, Accenture, Aon, the BBC and Capgemini all offer apprenticeships in London.

Alongside an apprenticeship, think of all the exciting things you could do while you’re in London! You could visit the Houses of Parliament. You could ride a London bus, that’s always an experience. You could even have an awkward chat with a commuter on the underground. If you’re feeling really bold, you could go to Hyde Park - feed the ducks, hire a pedalo.

Follow the link below to see a full list of apprenticeships in London.

Apprenticeship vacancies London →

Apprenticeships in the UK

Before you all start packing a suitcase to move to London, there are opportunities for apprentices across the UK. While big corporations tend to gravitate towards the capital, there are plenty of companies outside of London that offer apprenticeships in various industries.

If you visit the jobs page on RateMyApprenticeship, you can set filters to search for apprenticeships in specific locations across the UK.

Apprenticeships in 2016/17

With each passing year, apprenticeships continue to grow in stature and popularity as they become a more established alternative route for students and school leavers. Major organisations continue to take on hundreds of apprentices each year and train up the next generation of skilled workers.

Defence and aerospace company BAE Systems is set to take on its largest number of apprentices in 2016/17, with courses in construction, engineering and financial administration.

Jaguar Land Rover is also looking to hire hundreds of school leavers this year, strengthening its reputation as one of the country's biggest employers of apprentices.

The big cheeses of UK infrastructure, Network Rail, Rolls Royce and National Grid are all investing heavily in apprenticeship schemes.

Aside from organisations based in more technical industries, other companies set to play a big role this year include names like Aldi (retail), Grant Thornton (accountancy), Virgin Media (IT) and GSK (pharmaceuticals).

National Apprenticeship Week takes place in March 2017, to promote the role and growing importance played by school leaver apprenticeships schemes. National Apprenticeship Week is designed to encourage more businesses and people to get involved in schemes for school leavers, as well as celebrating the positive impact made by apprenticeships.

How to apply for an apprenticeship

Most of the employers that run apprenticeship programmes offer more than one type of course. Some employers have organised intermediate, advanced and higher apprenticeships – the three amigos. To ensure you are applying for the correct level of apprenticeship, we advise you to make a cup of tea, have a digestive biscuit and have a careful read through the entry requirements of each course.

Just to make life that little bit more exciting, companies offering the same type of course often set different entry requirements.

IBM's higher apprenticeships require you to have at least 160 UCAS points in order to qualify, while Virgin Media's higher apprenticeship programme asks that you have two A-levels and five GCSEs (including English and maths).

Another cup of tea might be needed, but it’s well worth your time doing research before you start sending off applications. If you’re going to have another biscuit, go for a custard cream, mix it up a bit.

Once you have done some research, the key to getting your mittens on the dream apprenticeship are your CV, cover letter and application form.

Keep reading for a guide to writing a CV and filling out the application forms for an apprenticeship.

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Job application forms

Application forms are designed to find out about your motivations for putting yourself forward for a job, as well as your education, employment history and key skills.

Some employers can receive an unholy number of applications for an apprenticeship. It is crucial that your application form stands out. Be creative with your answers, research the company and link your skills and experience to the job role.

Before you start getting the Party Rings out, and hit submit on your application, check your spelling and grammar. Grammatical mistakes are a big turnoff for employers. If you spell the company’s name wrong, you’re not going to get the job, even if you’re the only applicant.

It’s also a smart idea to copy your responses into a separate document That way, even if the form crashes, you'll be able to copy and paste your answers rather than writing them all out again.

Apprenticeships in London

How to write a CV

When you apply for apprenticeships online, you'll just be asked to send across your CV, or attach your CV to your application.

It is vital that you keep your CV up to date and of a high quality. This means putting effort into it from start to finish, kicking off with a clean, easily-readable font and a logical structure.

Key things your CV should always include when applying for apprenticeships include:

  • PERSONAL DETAILS: name, address, phone and email (add LinkedIn if you have an account)
  • EDUCATION: include your most recent qualification first, followed by second most recent and so on
  • PERSONAL STATEMENT: keep it focused and don't ramble on or you'll bore the reader! Always try and relate interests, career aspirations and skills to the job
  • WORK EXPERIENCE: if you have relevant work experience, definitely mention it (include start/end dates). Say what you did, where you worked, what your responsibilities were and what skills you took away from it
  • SKILLS AND ACHIEVEMENTS: if you have any good extra-curricular activities or achievements that you can put down, it's worth doing so. Again, try and relate them to the role
  • KEY SKILLS: providing a short, bullet-pointed list of your key skills, (such as time-management, experience using Microsoft Office) is a great way of highlighting your strengths.
  • REFERENCES: include details of people who employers can contact to find out more about you. Ideally these should be professional, so former employers (or teachers if you haven't had any work experience).

Visit our student advice page for more guidance on CV’s, cover letters and apprenticeship application forms.

What are the benefits of doing an apprenticeship?

If there's an industry that you know you want to work in, an apprenticeship scheme can provide you with the qualifications and the experience you need to get ahead of the competition.

An apprenticeship is a stepping stone to help you reach employment. The skills you pick up are recognisable to all employers, even if the company you work for during your apprenticeship do not offer you a permanent position.

If you want to work, earn money but continue to develop a skillset and understanding of a certain industry, an apprenticeship is the best option for you.

Not only will you be paid, you will be treated as a company employee, entitled to holidays and annual leave.

Studying and working at the same time can be a balancing act, but if you put in the time and effort now, you stand a good chance of reaping the rewards later down the line. You will be in a stronger position than someone who has the knowledge but no practical experience.

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