19 February 2016 | Careers Advice | Guest Author

With university fees rising and the government’s pledge to create three million new apprenticeships by 2020, these great alternatives to the traditional, increasingly expensive academic route are experiencing a bit of a moment. There were 871,800 people on apprenticeships in 2014/15, compared to 851,500 a year earlier.

Put simply, an apprenticeship is a paid period of training that allows you to learn a particular skill or set of skills. Usually lasting between one and four years, apprentices learn while they earn, pick up valuable workplace skills and are often offered a full-time job at the end of the scheme.

There are different levels of apprenticeship, all offering different qualifications and skills, to people at various stages along their education and career paths: Intermediate Apprenticeships, Advanced Apprenticeships, Higher Apprenticeships and Degree Apprenticeships.

Intermediate Apprenticeships are the most popular level, and they offer a wide range of qualifications. These include a Level 2 Competence qualification, a Functional Skills qualification and a relevant knowledge-based qualification. The Level 2 qualification will usually be a NVQ at Level 2, which is equivalent to five GCSEs grades A*-C.  You might also work towards a BTEC, GCSE, or City & Guilds qualification. Employers might ask for two or more GCSE grades (A*-C) or equivalent, but for some Intermediate Apprenticeships you might not need any formal qualifications. If you don’t have GCSEs in English and maths, though, you’ll usually be required to take a basic numeracy and literacy test.

As part of the intermediate apprenticeship, you’ll then either take a GSCE qualification in English or a Functional or Key Skills qualification at either Level 1 or Level 2. Once you’ve completed an intermediate apprenticeship, you’ll be eligible to move on to an advanced apprenticeship.

Advanced Apprenticeships are a step above Intermediate Apprenticeships and generally last between one year and four years, although they can be longer. They offer Level 3 Competence Qualifications, Functional Skills and, in most cases, relevant knowledge-based qualifications. To put it simply: completing an Advanced Apprenticeship is the equivalent to gaining two A-level passes. You’ll also gain relevant technical certificates or qualifications (depending on the type of apprenticeship).

Generally, to be eligible to do an Advanced Apprenticeship you must have either completed an Intermediate Apprenticeship or have a certain number of GCSEs (or equivalent); although this isn’t always the case. If you need to improve your skills, such as literacy and numeracy, there’s an Access to Apprenticeship scheme run by the National Apprenticeship Service that will help you out. Most of our featured employers on offering Advanced Apprenticeships will be looking for applicants with at least five GCSEs grades A*-C.

Higher Apprenticeships offer academic/vocational qualifications from Level 4 up to bachelor’s and master’s degree level at 6-7. All levels can include vocational qualifications and academic qualifications. Entry requirements will vary, but usually people who have already done an Advanced Apprenticeship or who have a minimum of two A-levels will be eligible for a Higher Apprenticeship. If you don’t have those, employers might take into account previous work experience or other criteria instead.

Degree Apprenticeships are the latest model to be developed, seeing apprentices achieving a full bachelor’s or master’s degree (Levels 6 and 7) as a core component of the apprenticeship. Both Higher and Degree Apprenticeships must last a minimum of one year, with Degree Apprenticeships in particular lasting longer, typically up to four years, though there is no fixed maximum duration.

Apprenticeships aren’t just for those interested in construction or engineering; as well as the range of levels and qualifications on offer, there is a wide variety of industries open to prospective apprentices: from agriculture, law and accountancy to education, retail, art and even journalism. Apprentices can find themselves working for a whole range of employers, from big household names to smaller companies and start-ups.

Apprentices also get paid, for their normal working hours (minimum 30 hours per week) and for their training (usually one day per week). The National Apprentice Minimum Wage is £3.30 and applies to all apprentices aged 16-18, as well as those aged 19 or over in their first year. You must be paid at least the minimum wage rate for your age if you’re an apprentice aged 19 or over and have completed your first year; for people aged 18-20 this is £5.30.

With apprenticeships offered everywhere from Jaguar Land Rover and Mercedes Benz, to the BBC and MI5; and in fields as wide-ranging as cyber security and aeronautical engineering, digital marketing and journalism, you can be sure there’s one to suit your career ambitions and ensure you bag your dream job.

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