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Apprenticeships allow you to combine a full-time job with training that gives you a whole range of transferable skills and sets you on the path to a successful career.

You learn on the job alongside experienced members of staff who will help you develop the skills needed in your chosen career, plus you also spend time studying at a local college or training provider towards a nationally recognised qualification. Some apprenticeships follow a day release training scheme, where the apprentice spends typically one day a week at college; others are based on block release, when periods at work are interspersed with periods at college or with your training provider.

Great reasons to choose an apprenticeship include:

You earn while you learn – your employer will pay you a salary which is at least the national minimum wage if you’re under 19 or in the first year of your apprenticeship. Older apprentices further into their training also earn at least the national minimum wage for their age group. In fact, many employers pay their apprentices above that level, often with starting salaries around £18,000 a year and even more for higher-level apprenticeships.

Employee perks – you’ll get the same perks as other employees such as paid holidays and possibly things like a subsidised canteen, access to leisure facilities and pension contributions.

Qualifications – as you progress through your apprenticeship, you’ll gain one or more nationally recognised qualification.

Free training – the cost of your training (which can take you from apprenticeship qualifications equivalent to five GCSEs right up to a degree level apprenticeship) is met by your employer and the government – no tuition fees, and no student debts.

Proven expertise – with an apprenticeship under your belt, potential employers will be confident that you’ve got the skills and training they’re looking for.

As an apprentice you’re classed as an employee rather than student. But although that means you’re not entitled to student discounts, the National Union of Students now offers an NUS Apprentice Extra Card, which will get you loads of discounts both in-store and online – things like cinemas, restaurants, shops and bus and train travel. There are also sometimes local schemes for apprentices, like the Apprentice Oyster photocard in London, which gives discounts on certain journeys.

Apprenticeship levels

You can apply for an apprenticeship if you are aged 16 or over and not in full-time education. (You can of course apply if you’re still at school or college and want to start when you leave.) Many apprenticeships also have specific entry requirements, in terms of qualifications or subjects studied.

Apprenticeships are structured in levels and the type that’s right for you generally depends on the qualifications you’ve already gained. They normally take between one and five years to complete, with the lower levels taking less time and the degree courses typically around five years. All of them include elements of on-the-job and off-the-job training which lead to industry-recognised standards or national qualifications.

Intermediate level apprenticeship

These Level 2 apprenticeships gain you a qualification equivalent to five GCSE passes at grades A*–C.

Advanced level apprenticeship

These Level 3 apprenticeships are equivalent to two A-level passes. The usual starting requirement is five GCSE passes at grades A*–C, or something equivalent. Advanced level apprenticeships are called apprenticeships in Wales and modern apprenticeships in Scotland.

Higher apprenticeship

Higher apprenticeships occupy levels 4–7 and involve a significant amount of part-time study at a college, university or training provider. Entrants to higher apprenticeships usually have A-levels or equivalent qualifications, or have possibly already completed an advanced level apprenticeship.

Levels 4 and 5 are equivalent to a range of qualifications such as the Higher Education Certificate and Diploma respectively. Higher National Certificates (HNCs) and Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) – vocational work-related qualifications that are often designed alongside industry to provide specific skills for an employment sector – also equate to levels 4 and 5. A foundation degree equates to a level 5 achievement and it’s sometimes possible to progress via a higher apprenticeship to a bachelor’s degree (level 6) or a master’s degree (level 7).

Degree apprenticeship

Levels 6 and 7 equate to a bachelor’s degree (level 6) or a master’s degree (level 7). Good A-level grades (or equivalent) are usually required for entry at this point.

Degree apprenticeships are becoming a popular alternative way of studying for a degree without the costs of being a university student, while gaining valuable industry experience. (In addition, many employers are expected over the next few years to turn their graduate recruitment schemes into level 7 apprenticeship programmes as their recruits study for master’s degrees or professional qualifications.)