Which apprenticeship is right for me, and how to choose the right one?

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Apprenticeships are increasing in popularity and availability. And it’s not hard to see why. As an alternative to the traditional route of paying for a qualification and racking up debt, earning money while continuing to learn and train is very appealing.

But how exactly do apprenticeships work? How do you know which apprenticeship – or even profession – is best for you? And how do you choose the right employer? Here we’ll look at some of the basics when considering applying for an apprenticeship.

Key points:

  • Apprenticeships are a great way of learning and getting a qualification, while also earning a wage. This presents an alternative to the university route, which – while attractive for many – can mean a long time not earning and accruing debt.
  • There are several different levels of apprenticeship, with educational equivalents. These are detailed below.
  • When working out what career to pursue, and what to look for in an employer, there are numerous considerations. We’ll look at these in turn. But ultimately, the decision is up to you.

What are apprenticeships, exactly?

Apprenticeships combine learning both in the classroom and on the job. There are several different entry levels for apprenticeships, depending on what qualifications you’ve attained. And – possibly most importantly – as you’ll be working for an employer, you’ll be paid.

At all levels, apprenticeships comprise three elements:

  • Competencies qualification: You’ll receive a certificate, which demonstrates that you’re competent in your apprenticeship trade or occupation. In other words, that you’ve reached a certain level of skill in the workplace.
  • Knowledge-based qualification: This is the classroom qualification, which demonstrates you have specialist knowledge and understanding of the industry.
  • Key skills / functional skills qualification: This qualification reflects a certain standard of literacy or numeracy.

What are the benefits of an apprenticeship?

While there are many benefits to going down the apprenticeship route, the big hitter is that you’ll earn while you learn. Going to university is still the preferred route of many, but it’s not for everybody. Not least because you won’t be earning while you study (unless you take on an unrelated part-time job); and student debt is on the rise, which can be difficult to shift.

At the time of writing, the minimum wage for an apprentice is £4.30, although this goes up to £4.81 in April 2022. And once you turn 18, the minimum goes up to £6.56, which goes up to £6.83 in April 2022.

Source: https://www.gov.uk/national-minimum-wage-rates

In addition, the work you’re doing is vocational, so you’re building up experience in what will hopefully turn into a lifetime profession.

What are the apprenticeship levels?

These are the levels of apprenticeship and their educational equivalents, at a glance:

Level Type of apprenticeship Equivalent to
Level 2 Intermediate 5 GCSEs
Level 3 Advanced 2 A-Levels
Level 4 Higher Education certificate or diploma
Level 5 Higher Foundation degree
Level 6 Degree Bachelor’s degree
Level 7 Degree Masters degree

Please bear in mind that the requirements for certain levels aren’t hard and fast. Apprenticeship criteria tend to be set by the employer, so it’s important to read their job description thoroughly.

Intermediate apprenticeship

These are the most common, entry-level apprenticeships. Some may not require formal qualifications, but usually you’ll need some A* to C-grade GCSEs. English and maths in particular will set you in good stead. Some job applications may require you to sit a literacy and numeracy test if you don’t have GCSE English or maths.

On completing the apprenticeship, you’ll have a level-2 qualification, made up of the three elements listed above. You’ll also have worked towards a level 2 National Vocational Qualification (NVQ), which is the equivalent of five A* to C-grade GCSEs. Plus you’ll be able to apply for an advanced apprenticeship.

Advanced apprenticeship

If you have at least five A* to C-grade GCSEs, you can skip a level, and apply for an advanced apprenticeship.

On completing this apprenticeship, you’ll have a level-3 qualification. The knowledge-based qualification may be a BTEC, which is equivalent to two A-level passes. This is the most widely-recognised qualification for admission into higher education, alongside A-levels. You’ll also be qualified to apply for a higher apprenticeship.

Higher or degree apprenticeship

If you already have at least two A-levels, you can apply for a higher apprenticeship. This is well worth considering if you want to continue studying while also earning a decent wage. Depending on your qualifications and the programme you apply for, you could even go for a degree-level apprenticeship.

On completing this apprenticeship, you could earn a qualification such as:

  • NVQ level 4
  • A foundation degree
  • Higher National Diploma (HND)
  • Undergraduate degree

What industry should I get into?

This is the tricky one. If you already know what profession you’d like to pursue ultimately, that’s great news – but you’re probably in the minority. Knowing what profession to get into isn’t straightforward for everyone and is worth some pretty serious consideration.

Just to make things trickier, there are apprenticeships available in over 170 sectors. With this much choice, working out the best route for you can seem bamboozling. But here are some of the things worth thinking about.

What are my interests and skills?

Before making a commitment, it’s worth thinking about what you enjoy doing, and any skills you have that you’d like to develop.

Let’s say you’re internet savvy, or pretty handy with computers and devices generally. It might be worth thinking about digital marketing, which has a great deal of apprenticeship opportunities, and spans a whole range of industries and products. After all, every business needs a website, and to get the attention of potential customers.

If you’re more practical and hands-on, you might consider engineering. This could open up any number of roles in construction, science or technology. Having an interest or qualification in science will be a real bonus here.

If you’d like to work with people, education and childcare apprenticeships are increasingly popular, and can be started at an intermediate level. If you have or are going to have some A-levels under your belt, it’s also worth considering a nursing, medical or healthcare apprenticeship. These tend to start at degree level, and you’ll be earning a real wage from the outset.

Working out what you’d like to do ultimately may require some serious soul-searching. But you’re not alone – so you can also seek out a second opinion.

Our apprenticeships

What advice is available?

To help get some ideas, and an outside perspective of what you may be good at, it’s well worth asking the opinion of someone who knows you well. Whether this is a friend, family member or teacher, if you can get some advice from someone who you trust, this can be a massive help in pointing you in the right direction. Going to a careers fair and speaking to representatives there can also help to give an insight into specific industries and professions.

In addition, there’s a wealth of advice you can seek online. For example, you can take quizzes to find out what sectors or vocations may suit you best. But ultimately, the decision can only be yours to make.

What industries have a labour shortage?

If you’d like to go after the money, with little serious competition, then it’s worth looking into which industries are crying out for professionals. At the time of writing, industries such as hospitality, logistics and construction are experiencing shortages in the UK. Do your homework, and you may find that your interests align with a genuine demand for workers.

Further reading:

What should I look for in an employer?

When you’ve got a good idea of the career you’d like to pursue, it’s time to find an employer offering apprenticeships. Who you end up working for is incredibly important, so it’s well worth doing your research. It may even mean having to relocate, which is something to consider. But you may think it’s worth it for the right employer.

  • The size of the company is a factor here. Large employers tend to hire more apprentices, and are more likely to have a well-developed apprenticeship programme. This could mean they provide all training in-house. They may also have several offices around the country, so there may be a better choice of where you could end up.
  • On the other hand, if you look to join a smaller company, you might be the only apprentice. This could mean working most of the week with the employer, while going to a further education college for the remainder of the week. However, working with a small company is often a more intimate experience, which you may prefer.
  • Other issues to consider include what the company pays, and how much competition there is for roles. While top companies may have well-established apprenticeship programmes, the competition may well be fierce.
  • Before applying, it’s worth getting to know the company, and finding out if you’re likely to be a good fit. Check out their website, and read their job descriptions thoroughly to see if you like what you hear. They may also make themselves available at apprenticeship fairs. These will be well worth attending, as someone from the company will be able to answer any questions you may have.
  • Make sure everything feels right and works for you before you commit. You may end up working for this company for many years, after all.

If you’re interested in an apprenticeship and live in Wales – or would like to move to Wales – find out about TSW’s apprenticeships here.

Picture of Richard Hywood
Richard Hywood
Richard is TSW Training Apprenticeships’ Employer and Community Engagement Manager. His articles will help your business prepare for and manage apprentices.
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