Kick start your career with an apprenticeship

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apprentice1Keen to boost your employability and job security? Think about undertaking an apprenticeship…

 What do successful hairdresser John Frieda, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and celebrity chef, Marco Pierre White have in common? They all started their careers as apprentices. A great way of experiencing new challenges and learning a trade at your own pace with support available when you need it, apprenticeships are popular with companies, too.

Simon Waugh, chief executive of the National Apprentice Service (NAS) says: ‘More and more employers are recognising that training people through an apprenticeship is the most competitive and efficient way to grow stronger.’ And they’re not, as many people think, a thing of a past. Nearly a quarter of a million (240,000) people took up apprenticeships last year, and over 130,000 employers in England are currently offering the schemes to new and existing staff, according to the NAS.

What’s an apprenticeship? In essence, it’s a way of gaining both qualifications and practical skills from the workplace at the same time. Most apprenticeships are split between on-the-job training and theoretical training at a local college or a specialist learning provider, to gather vocational qualifications. You will earn a salary, get paid holidays, get valuable qualifications and learn job-specific skills.

appentice3Great variety
Are there different levels?
The types of apprenticeships generally fall into one of three categories:

  • Apprenticeships are equivalent to five good GCSE passes.
  • Advanced Apprenticeships are equivalent to two A-level passes.
  • Higher Apprenticeships are equivalent to a degree.

What qualification will I get?
All apprenticeships include: a work-based qualification such as an NVQ at Level 2, 3 or 4; key skills qualifications; and in some cases, a knowledge-based qualification such as a BTEC or foundation degree.

Who can undertake an apprenticeship?
They’re open to anyone over the age of 16, who lives in England and is not in full-time education. They’re available to people of all walks of life, whether you’re just leaving school, have been working for years or are seeking a change of career.

What sectors offer them?
Apprenticeships are available in all industries throughout England. There are almost 200 types of apprenticeships, in fields from dental nursing to accountancy, and air cabin crew to product design. Finding one that’s right for you will depend on your interests, your experience and the opportunities in your area.

How long do they last?
Apprenticeships can take between one and four years to complete depending on the industry sector, the level of apprenticeship, and the apprentice’s ability.

How much do they cost?
Nothing. While you’re on an apprenticeship, your employer pays you a salary and supports the cost of training. Depending on your age, the National Apprenticeship Service will pay the costs of your training.

Will I get paid?
Employed apprentices must receive a wage of £95 per week. However, as skills develop, employers can increase wages. On average, apprentices earn £170 per week, and in some job roles around £210 per week.

What time of year can I start?
You can apply at any time of year. When you begin the work-based training, depends upon the availability of a position with an employer.

What are the benefits of doing an apprenticeship?

  • Earning while you learn has a great deal  of advantages, including:
  • Support when you need it. Your employer or training provider will ensure that your training fits your personal requirements, offers the skills needed for the job and satisfies national standards.
  • The chance to work better and more effectively. Apprentices are 20-30% more productive than colleagues who have not completed an apprenticeship, according a study carried out by the University of Warwick.
  • Better pay. People who start their career through a Level 2 NVQ apprenticeship could earn £70,000 more during their professional lifetime than those who have not been an apprentice, according to a study carried out by Sheffield University.
  • Good job prospects. Apprenticeships train you in exactly the on-the-job skills employers want.

Joe-Price-239Case study: Be a winner
Joe Price, 20, from Shrewsbury was awarded Advanced Apprentice of the Year at the National Apprenticeship Awards 2011. The carpenter started his Apprenticeship in September 2008, working for J R Slee Building and Joinery Contractors Ltd in Shrewsbury. In the three years from then he gained a City & Guilds Level 1, 2 and 3 in carpentry and joinery all passed with distinction. ‘My apprenticeship has opened up lots of avenues in a short period of time,’ Joe says. ‘It’s amazing to be selected from all the apprentices nationwide to be a winner of the National Apprenticeship Awards.’

For more information on apprenticeships visit

Jamie-Apr-2011Editor’s career advice
Apprenticeships have a very long history – way back in the mists of time they were the standard way of learning a trade and children would be apprenticed to master craftsmen from a very early age. Nowadays, of course, there’s no question of becoming an apprentice before reaching school-leaving age: but they’re still a superb way to pick up the skills and capabilities needed to forge a successful career in a wide range of trades.

Getting into an apprenticeship is easier now than it has been for a long while as the government is putting significant resources into developing it as a viable career path. However, it’s not necessarily right for everybody. For starters, it’s a serious commitment to a trade – especially when compared with many beginner jobs which people might take simply because they want to start earning some money.

Being an apprentice isn’t a path to instant riches: weekly take-home pay can be low compared with other, non-apprenticeship positions (but the advantage is of course that in the long run the apprentice is developing an education which will stand him or her in much better stead). This is only a path to be taken by those sure of the trade they want to enter. Make sure you’re certain before going any further.

This article was first published in Careers with Hayley Taylor in August 2011. [Read the digital edition here]

 Images: Getty

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