why you should consider an apprenticeship - info from uk gov

Why You Should Consider An Apprenticeship Instead Of A University Degree

Not sure if an apprenticeship is right for you? Read our ultimate guide to apprenticeships with information from the UK government website.

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All information in this article was correct at the time of publication (20/10/2020). For updated information, please visit the UK apprenticeships.gov websitePlease also note that all information provided is relevant to the UK, details of apprenticeships in other areas may differ. To find out about apprenticeships near you, please do your own, independent research.

Apprentices will work with a company for 80% of their working week, and study for a qualification during the other 20%. Some apprenticeships require a higher percentage of hours spent studying, however 80% and 20% is how the time is normally organised.  This qualification is paid for by the company, you’ll gain valuable work experience and be paid a wage whilst you learn.

What are the pros and cons? How does it compare to a university course? This article will take you through the ins and outs of apprenticeships to help you decide if it is the right path for you!

Table of Contents

Who can do an apprenticeship?

If you’re over 16, living in England and not in full time education then you’re eligible to do an apprenticeship!

They can be great for people who want a career change because they allow you to keep earning whilst you learn. If you already have basic workplace skills, such as administrative knowledge and the ability to work in a team, then an apprenticeship can support you when moving into a completely different industry.

They are also great for people who are straight out of education. Apprenticeships are available in loads of different industries and offer a smooth transition from a school environment to the workplace.

What industries are apprenticeships available in?

The traditional view of apprenticeships is that they’re only for people who want to go into industries such as construction. This is absolutely not true anymore; the UK government is really pushing for apprenticeships to become more accessible.

Nowadays, you can get an apprenticeship in pretty much any industry you can think of; nursing with the NHS, hairdressing, the police, guide dog training, quantity surveying, etc.

The only careers that aren’t currently accessible by apprenticeships is anything that requires very specialist, in-depth knowledge. This includes roles such as some medical professionals, types of lawyers and many jobs in education.

The different levels of apprenticeships

There are eight different levels of apprenticeships. The list below shoes how the levels are equivalent to the traditional, academic qualifications.

  • Intermediate (Level 2): equivalent to GCSE
  • Advanced (Level 3): equivalent to A Level
  • Higher (Levels 4, 5, 6 & 7): equivalent to Foundation Degree and above
  • Degree (Level 6 & 7): equivalent to Bachelor’s or master’s degree

How much are apprentices paid?

Employers can technically pay an apprentice whatever they think is suitable. The pay rate is decided by loads of different factors, including the level of apprenticeship, your age, your previous work experience, and the amount of responsibility you will be required to take on.

Every apprentice should be paid national minimum wage. For ages 16 to 18, at the time of writing this article, this is £4.15 per hour. This does change occasionally, so for full details please visit the government website.

To be honest with you, this is in no way a large amount of money at first glance. The likelihood is that this won’t be enough to live off comfortably. However, when you compare the net profit of an apprenticeship to a university degree, you can really see the benefit of it.

At the time of writing this article, average student debt in the UK is £27,000. This doesn’t even include the maintenance loan, which can bring the total fee up to £35,000.

So even though £4.15 really isn’t much, you’ll get your qualification debt free, meaning you’ll technically be thousands of pounds better off.

Some apprenticeships will pay much more if the role comes with increased responsibility, such as doing extra admin. These apprenticeships are often more competitive to get into and will be given to someone who has some relevant work experience.

How much time off do you get as an apprentice?

time off annual leave holiday women in a canoe blue water mountains
Photo by Kalen Emsley on Unsplash

As a full time apprentice, you will be entitled to 20 days holiday a year. Most employers will allow you to take this annual leave at any time of the year, however they are entitled to restrict when you can take this time off if the business requires it.

Annual leave can be restricted by employers if they have partially busy times of year, such as school term times or seasonal periods like Christmas.

The pros of doing an apprenticeship

Learning on the job

Everyone has a different learning style. If you learn better by studying and then practicing what you’ve learnt, an apprenticeship will be perfect for you!

Even though you still have to study for exams, your revision will be a lot easier. This is because your job will be a large part of your revision. This means you can spend less time with your head buried in a book and more time doing what you love!

Earning a wage

As mentioned above, even though minimum apprenticeship pay is barely enough to live on, you’ll get your qualification debt free!

Also, you have to remember that apprentices will sometimes be paid more than the minimum wage. Some companies will have apprenticeships that come with extra responsibilities, meaning that they will be paying a little more.

It's easier to get a job if you’ve already got one

two women working on a laptop in a office
Photo by KOBU Agency on Unsplash

It’s true that job searching is easier if you’re currently employed. On applications, it looks so much better talking in present tense about the skills you use, rather than in past tense. Also, when recruiting, employers want candidates who are going to fit in well with their team. If you’ve been in a workplace, learnt teamwork and communication skills specified towards your industry, you’re in a much stronger position to be successful in your job search.

So, once you’ve finished your apprenticeship, finding another job will probably be much easier than if you’re a recent graduate.

Easier transition into the workplace

A work environment will give you skills that school or a university will never be able to give you. These range from knowledge of subtleties like offering co-workers cups of tea, to skills like maintaining databases and creating a professional telephone voice.

An apprenticeship is great because it will give you the leeway to learn these skills. Going straight into a job without the learning aspect is tough because you are expected to already have these skills. 

As an apprentice, the employers aren’t expecting you to have these skills already, meaning you’ll be given the space to make mistakes whilst you learn.

The cons of doing an apprenticeship

Some careers can’t be accessed by an apprenticeship

If you’re wanting to become something that requires very specialist knowledge, such as types of medical professionals, you may not be able to access this career through an apprenticeship.

However, apprenticeships are becoming available in more industries every year! So it’s definitely worth looking into to see if there are some available that suit you.

You might start off on a low wage

As mentioned above, most apprenticeships don’t pay very much. So, if you’ve got items to pay for, such as a mortgage or car insurance, you may have to hunt around for an apprenticeship with a higher wage. These are out there! They just have a little more competition to get into.

A great way to go into a higher paying apprenticeship is to find yourself a job first. Try to get one in the industry you want to work in, but if you can’t it’s not a problem. Some strong, paid work experience will give you those basic workplace skills, meaning that you’ll be able to offer more experience than candidates who are straight out of education.

Where to find your perfect apprenticeship?

The best place to find an apprenticeship is https://www.findapprenticeship.service.gov.uk/

Remember, apprenticeships are different to uni courses in that they can start pretty much any time of year. This means that there are new opportunities advertised every day, so it’s worth checking the site often!

Another approach you can take is to search for apprenticeship schemes. Larger companies will run programs where they take on new apprentices every year or so. Have a google and find a few schemes you like the look of, it should say on their website when their next round of recruitment will be.

You can use the time leading up to when recruitment opens to strengthen your application and gain some work experience that will help place you above the competition.

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