An apprenticeship is an arrangement that combines work, study and training in such a way that the participant is able to earn whilst training for a career. Typically aimed at school leavers, most schemes last over a year, but some can take up to four or five years, depending on the specific type of apprenticeship on offer.
On the face of it, an apprenticeship sounds more appealing than a university degree, which could land you in debt for many years to come. You are learning on the job in a workplace setting, and bringing home a salary in the process. Some professions, particularly hands-on trades such as joinery or plumbing, do not necessarily require an academic degree, but first-hand experience is deemed as more valuable. So, if you have a career path in mind, it might not be necessary for you to take the university route.
And if you think that university sounds like a lot of hard work, don’t be fooled into thinking an apprenticeship is the easy way-out. They involve a lot of practical work and it actually takes longer to move up the academic levels than when you’re studying in the classroom. No longer viewed as the second-rate option, apprenticeships are starting to be regarded as highly as degree qualifications by many employers and companies.
All apprenticeships aim to provide an NVQ, HNC or other equivalent qualification, ranked from intermediate (equivalent to five GCSE passes), through to advanced (equivalent to two A-level passes) and higher (can lead to NVQ level four, or a foundation degree). There is also a newer area of apprenticeships called degree apprenticeships, which is becoming a popular alternative to a full-time university degree. They are available in a few different sectors including engineering, public relations, construction, science and the digital world, and are fully respected by potential employers. Whilst university graduates are desperately trying to find their first work experience placement, apprentices are a step ahead on the career ladder.
On the downside, apprenticeship pay is usually around the minimum wage, although employers are free to pay above this level, and some higher apprenticeships are considerably more lucrative. Those who receive the minimum amount may, however, be entitled to claim benefits from the government on top of their wage, so this is worth investigating. Although the majority of employers stay with the same employer with which they did their course, not all contracts offer a full-time position at the end of the apprenticeship. But, once you have completed your qualification, you will be in a much better position for future employment, with plenty of experience under your belt, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t look to increase your salary and responsibilities thereafter.
It is also worth pointing out that securing an apprenticeship place is a competitive business, with around 370,000 new apprentices each year. However, whatever your field of interest, there’s an apprenticeship course to match, together with an employer keen to train you. For the latest apprenticeship opportunities in the UK, check out the UCAS site, as well as the government’s website. It may be worth setting up an alert, so you are the first to know about any vacancies as soon as they are advertised. Employers also publish vacancies on their own websites, so it would be wise to check directly with a specific company if you have your heart set on working for them.
Before settling on an apprenticeship, do consider all your options to ensure your decision is the right one. Are you sure your chosen field is where you want to be working? Apprenticeships are not for everyone, but they do offer fantastic opportunities for young people eager to learn a new set of skills whilst taking home a salary. Just don’t expect an apprenticeship to be anything like your school days! You’ll be expected to combine the demands of working with training and studying, and you’ll have fewer holidays than the average university student, so be prepared! All in all, however, an apprenticeship is the ideal choice for many school leavers keen to discover the world of work first-hand.