What is an apprenticeship?

So you're wondering what to do when you finish school and wave goodbye to your GCSEs or A- levels.

Maybe you still want to work towards bagging extra qualifications that can help you in your future career, but you're unsure about whether university is right for you or not.

It used to be the case that a lot of school students like you would be dead set on heading to university and studying towards a degree that would support them in their future career.

Times change though, as do the paths open to you.

University is no longer the only route you can consider, and if you believe you'd fare better following another path, you may find that an apprenticeship suits you more.

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. Typically apprenticeship schemes cater to school leavers or young people aged between 16 and 24 years of age, 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 the trade, acquiring important skills that are relevant to the industry and benefitting from the chance to do some part-time study.

The aim of modern apprenticeships is to provide you with an alternative to the traditional path of finishing your GCSEs and going to sixth form when you’re 16, or completing your A-levels and heading straight off to university when you’re 18 years of age.

Therefore, they aim to offer you another way of working towards important qualifications, but instead of focusing solely on studying, you get to soak-up career-enhancing skills at the same time. Handy!

Apprenticeship schemes work by allowing you to gain experience in more than 190 different industries, depending on what's available in your local area and what level of scheme you want to partake in.

For example, sectors you can gain experience in include:

  • Grocery & retail
  • Accountancy & finance
  • IT services
  • Manufacturing & engineering
  • Professional services
  • Business
  • Media
  • Pharmaceuticals & healthcare
  • Financial services & banking.

The structure of each apprenticeship can vary depending on the type of scheme and employer that you work for.

Some will 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.

According to the Department for Education, almost 50,000 teenagers went into a work-based training course in the 12 months to March 2014." Graeme Paton, The Telegraph, July 2014

Why should I do an apprenticeship?

When considering your next move after finishing school, you need to think about what kind of person you are and what path would suit you the most.

For example, if you enjoy doing practical work over studying and don't fancy spending at least three years working towards a degree, then maybe university isn't right for you, but an apprenticeship is.

On the flipside, if you don't feel quite ready to enter the world of work and do enjoy studying (and believe that a degree would benefit your future career) then university might be the route for you.

If you're the kind of person who wants to feel like you're proactively upskilling yourself and taking strides forward in your development, while learning and earning at the same time, then apprenticeship programs are something you should look into.

What are the different types of apprenticeship?

When we speak about apprenticeships, we're referring to a number of different apprenticeship levels that exist. These include:

Intermediate apprenticeships (level two)

These programmes are designed to help you if you have two or more GCSEs at A*-C level (or the equivalent of), with qualifications being the equivalent of five GCSEs.

View intermediate apprenticeships

Advanced apprenticeships (level three)

The typical entry requirements for these schemes are five or more GCSEs at A*-C level (or equivalent). These advanced qualifications are the equivalent of two A-levels.

View advance apprenticeships

Higher apprenticeships (level four)

For these programmes, the required grades for entry are typically two A-levels or the equivalent of. A higher apprenticeship can be the equivalent of a foundation degree, Higher National Diploma (HND) or Higher National Certificate (HNC).

View higher apprenticeships

Qualification levels

A new type of apprenticeship scheme – known as a degree apprenticeship – has been unveiled and is becoming available from September 2015. As the name suggests, on one of these programmes you’ll be able to work towards earning a degree while earning money and also not paying any fees. How great does that sound?

You may be wondering why the apprenticeships listed above don’t start at level one, and instead start at level two with intermediate apprenticeships. The reason for this is because qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are generally grouped into different levels. These levels cover everything from GCSEs to university degrees and doctorates.

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 covers different types of qualifications, including GCSEs (D-G grades) and NVQ level 1.

Whichever apprenticeship scheme you wish to get stuck into really depends on your learning style and preferences. If academics aren’t your strongest point and you want to kick-start your career as soon as possible, then intermediate and advanced apprenticeships 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, then you might find that a higher apprenticeship suits you more. Either way, all apprenticeship schemes offer you the chance to learn, earn and develop your skills at the same time.

Apprenticeships in London

As the British capital and the place where many of the world's largest companies have their headquarters, there's no question that London is a major hub for apprenticeships.

Just some of the big names you could be end up working for include IBM, Accenture, Aon, the BBC and Capgemini, but the list goes on.

Businesses want to take on young people like you as apprentices because it means they can bring in new talent and help you develop skills that they require and that can help you in your working life.

There are more companies concentrated in the capital than in any other part of the UK, so it stands to reason that there are plenty of London apprenticeships that you can get involved in.

Apprenticeships 2015

With each year that goes by, apprenticeships continue to grow in stature and popularity as they become a more established alternative route for students and school leavers.

By the look of it 2015 doesn't appear to be any different. 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 in fact set to take on its largest number of apprentices ever in 2015, in locations across the country.

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

Other companies that are big on the UK apprenticeships scene include the likes of Network Rail, Rolls-Royce and National Grid, businesses key to the United Kingdom's infrastructure.

Aside from organisations based in more technical industries, other companies set to play a big role in 2015's apprenticeship market include names like Aldi (retail), Grant Thornton (accountancy), Virgin Media (IT) and GSK (pharmaceuticals).

To promote the growing importance and role played by school leaver apprenticeships schemes, in March 2015 the National Apprenticeship Week takes place.

This is designed to encourage more businesses and people to get involved in schemes for school leavers, as well as highlight and celebrate the positive impact made by apprenticeships.

How can I get an apprenticeship?

Many employers that run apprentice schemes may offer more than one type of school leaver program, so make sure you check what the entry requirements are carefully before you apply.

For example, 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).

Key to getting your hands on that dream apprenticeship are your CV, cover letter and application, so make sure you spend time beefing these up and honing them to absolute perfection.

Job application forms

Many employers will ask you to fill in an application form, designed to find out all about your motivations for putting yourself forward for the job, as well as your education, employment history and skills.

To make sure your application has a chance of standing out, don't just wing it! Prepare your answers, research the company and link your skills and experience to the job role.

Before that glorious moment when you can hit submit on your application, check your spelling and grammar for mistakes (a big turnoff for employers) and copy your responses into a separate document.

That way even if the form crashed, at least you'll just be able to copy and paste your answers rather than writing them all out again.

How to make your CV great

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

This is why it's important to 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 (and LinkedIn if you have one)
  • Education: include your most recent qualification first, followed by second most recent and so on
  • Personal statement: but 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
  • 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).

What are the benefits of doing an apprenticeship?

If there's an industry that you just know deep down inside you want to work in, then modern apprenticeship schemes can offer you the head start you need to get ahead of the competition and start learning key skills from a young age.

In a nutshell, an apprenticeship is a stepping stone to help you reach employment – whether that's with the company you were an apprentice for, or another business where your skills are relevant and can be applied.

Simply put, if you want to earn money for working but also continue to spend time developing your skills and understanding of a certain area of expertise, apprenticeships allow you to do just that.

Alongside the fact that you're getting paid is the knowledge that you will be treated as a company employee, so you'll be entitled to holidays and annual leave.

Gaining practical work experience while working with seasoned employees will allow you to soak up a wealth of knowledge. After all, you learn more by doing.

Additionally, as you're just at the beginning of your career, you'll be expected to ask questions, so a support structure should be in place to help you learn. You may even be assigned a mentor to help you specifically.

Studying and working at the same time can be a balancing act, but if you put in the time and effort at this stage in your life, you stand a good chance of reaping the rewards later down the line and standing in a stronger position than someone who just has the knowhow but no practical experience.

What industries offer apprenticeships?

Popular industries in which school leavers can find apprenticeships include consulting & IT services, manufacturing & engineering, professional services, pharmaceuticals & healthcare and financial services & banking, among others.