Apprenticeships: How to get started
What is an apprenticeship?
An apprenticeship is a work-based training programme, which allows participants to earn a recognised qualification whilst gaining practical experience.
Although each apprenticeship is different, they usually provide a combination of on-the-job training and off-the-job training, which may mean day release (to attend college), distance learning or independent study.
The length of each apprenticeship will vary greatly depending on the industry and employer but will usually take between one and four years to complete.
Who can apply for an apprenticeship?
Anyone over 16 in the UK not currently in full time education, who may want to learn a new skill or trade.
Although some apprenticeships are targeted solely at candidates between the ages of 16 and 18, there are no age limits to start an apprenticeship, with many large companies allowing applicants of all ages to apply.
How to apply for an apprenticeship
Apprenticeships are advertised throughout the year. Larger firms tend to start advertising roles between September and January, while smaller firms typically advertise their apprenticeship vacancies two to three months before the apprenticeship begins.
The application process for an apprenticeship may differ for each employer. Some may require you to complete an application form, or they may ask you to send a copy of your CV and a cover letter. Whatever the process is, be sure to:
- Submit your application before the submission date
- Complete every section of the application
- Or, if applying with a CV and cover letter, ensure they’re tailored to the position
- Attach any supporting evidence that the employer has asked for
- Check your application for spelling and grammar mistakes before hitting ‘submit’
Do apprentices get paid?
Yes. Apprenticeships are paid positions, allowing you to earn as you learn.
The National Minimum Wage for apprentices is currently £4.30 per hour. This applies to apprentices aged between 16 and 18, and those aged 19 or over during their first year.
Those aged over 19 who have completed a full year of an apprenticeship are then entitled to be paid at least the minimum wage rate (according to their age).
What kinds of apprenticeships are available?
There is a common misconception that apprenticeships are only available for skilled labour positions when in fact, they are available to some degree in every sector or industry.
There are hundreds of different types, covering literally thousands of different roles. Apprenticeships can be taken in everything from Health and Beauty to Construction and Property, Plumbing to Graphic Design, and everything in between.
What will you learn on an apprenticeship?
The skills you’ll learn and the qualifications you’ll gain will depend on the apprenticeship. As all apprenticeships follow an approved study programme that’s designed for the position and the industry the employer operates in, you’ll gain a nationally recognised qualification at the end of your apprenticeship. Depending on the apprenticeship you’re doing, this could be an NVQ, BTEC, HNC, HND or another approved qualification.
As well as developing work-specific skills, you’ll also be developing important transferable skills, such as communication, time management or problem-solving. These personal qualities or soft skills, as they’re also known, are highly valued by employers and can help you progress your career beyond the apprenticeship.
What are the benefits of an apprenticeship?
The main advantage of an apprenticeship is that you can earn a salary whilst gaining industry specific qualifications. Also, they allow you to build the foundations for a career, whilst providing more practical training, making them a perfect way to gain experience in your chosen industry.
Other key benefits include:
- One-to-one training with a reputable employer
- No student loans or debts
- Opportunity to build your professional network
- Learn industry specific skills in a practical setting
- Result in a professional qualification
What employers offer apprenticeships?
Employers of all sizes and across all industries are hiring apprentices. So there’s something to suit all interests. Industries that actively hire apprentices include Banking and Finance, IT, Media, Law, Engineering, Healthcare (the NHS offer a range of apprenticeship positions) and the Armed Forces. It may surprise you, but the Army, Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force are ranked among the top 10 apprenticeship employers.
Tips for finding an apprenticeship
Do your research
The first thing to do is decide what industry you want to work in. Try and weigh up your interests, and work out what your main strengths are. What kind of skills do you want to learn? What career prospects are there within this industry?
Do some research into what’s available to you, what apprenticeship schemes are currently present within your area, what qualifications you’d like to achieve, and where you want to go in your career, before moving forward.
Leverage your network
Family, friends, colleagues and school or college tutors, can all be a good source of information, and may be able to point you in the right direction for finding an apprenticeship position.
Build up your professional network online; LinkedIn is a great place to connect and engage with industry peers. Post on your social networks that you’re looking for an apprenticeship job. You never know who will see it!
Also, search for apprenticeships on employers websites and also on Reed.co.uk, where there are thousands of apprenticeship positions currently advertised.
Tailor your CV
Most apprenticeships are entry-level positions. Therefore, the majority of employers won’t expect you to have an extensive employment history. However, rather than being tempted to try and compensate for this with white-lies and hyperbole, always play to your strengths.
Valuable skills for prospective apprentices include the following:
- practical problem solving
- being able to work independently and as part of a team
- good listening skills
- attention to detail
- a willingness to learn
As a result, some of these should be clearly demonstrated (using examples, wherever possible) within your CV. So whether it’s your good grades in Maths (problem solving), or being able to take orders quickly and efficiently when working part-time in a restaurant (listening skills/willingness to learn), these should always be kept in mind when writing your CV.
Craft your cover letter
As with your CV, you should always use your cover letter to play to your strengths. To maximise its effectiveness, your cover letter should always be crafted for each individual application. Although time consuming, making it more personal to the position will always pay dividends in the long run.
Use your cover letter to explain why you think you’d be suitable for an apprenticeship, why you want to work within that industry/for that company, and where you want to go in your career.
To find out how to structure yours, try our free cover letter template.
Practice your interview technique
As with any position, ensuring proper preparation for the interview stage is essential. However, whilst most job vacancies will be competitive, this is especially apparent when it comes to apprenticeships. With the possibility of competing against a number of other candidates, always be conscious of how to stand out from the crowd.
To learn more, here’s our guide about how to prepare for an interview.
Finally, don’t give up…
Resilience is the key attribute to adopt when starting to look into apprenticeships. They can be highly competitive and difficult to get into and, even when successful, may necessitate a lifestyle change when you start.
However, never lose sight of why you’re doing it. Apprenticeships are not only a great way to learn a trade in a hands-on environment, they’re also a terrific way to get your foot in the door of an employer in your chosen industry.
Even if after your apprenticeship it’s not possible for you to be retained by your company, you’ll emerge with a professional qualification, as well as the vital experience sought by many top employers.
Feel like an apprenticeship is the right option for you? View all available apprenticeships now