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Apprenticeships explained

Apprenticeships are a great option for many young people – but they can seem complicated and there are certainly a lot of options. If you’re thinking of applying for one, read our handy FAQs here first.


What is an apprenticeship and what are the benefits?

An apprenticeship is a real job with a structured training programme attached to it. Apprentices earn while they learn, gaining valuable skills and knowledge. So, for example, if you’re interested in a career in science you could apply for a Laboratory Scientist apprenticeship. Engineering apprenticeships are also a common pathway for people who've studied physics. 

Apprenticeships are designed by employers so they help you to develop the sorts of skills that employers really want. Your qualification and work experience will help you stand out to future employers and support your long-term career plans. You’ll gain job-specific skills while earning a wage and getting time for study related to your role (usually one day a week).

As an apprentice you'll be trained by a specialist training organisation, but your employment contract will be with the company you work for. You'll be interviewed by both. Companies often recruit through these training organisations. 

In the UK apprenticeships take 1–5 years to complete, depending on their level, and at least 20% of the time is off-the-job training. In Ireland apprenticeships are typically between 2–4 years with 50% off-the-job learning.

What levels of apprenticeship are there?

Apprenticeships vary depending on whether you’re in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales or Ireland.

England, Northern Ireland and Wales

Name Level Equivalent education level Example apprenticeship
Intermediate 2 5 GCSE passes Healthcare Science Assistant
Advanced 3 2 A level passes Laboratory Technician
Higher* 4, 5, 6, 7 Foundation degree & above Technician Scientist
Degree** 6, 7 Bachelor’s or master’s degree Laboratory Scientist

* In Northern Ireland Higher level apprenticeships are for students who have completed A Levels or equivalent and offer qualifications from Level 4 to Level 6 – for example an Applied Industry Science apprenticeship with a Foundation Degree in Applied Industrial Science or an Applied Industrial Science apprenticeship with a BSc in Applied Pharmaceutical Science. Visit NI Direct for more details on apprenticeships in NI:

https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/campaigns/apprenticeships

** Currently only available in England and Wales.

Visit the National Apprenticeship Service for more details on apprenticeships in England:

https://www.gov.uk/topic/further-education-skills/apprenticeships

Visit Careers Wales for more details on apprenticeships in Wales:

https://www.careerswales.com/en/jobs-and-training/job-seeking/vacancy-search/what-is-an-apprenticeship/

Scotland

There are three types of apprenticeship in Scotland:

  • Foundation: for pupils in S5 and S6, this qualification forms part of the subject choices with a substantial work placement e.g. Scientific Technologies (SCQF Level 6)
  • Modern: for anyone 16 or above, the apprentice is employed and works towards a qualification with a college or learning provider e.g. Life Sciences and Related Science industries (SCQF Level 6 & 7)
  • Graduate: for anyone 16 or above, the apprentice is employed and works full time while gaining a degree or masters e.g. Engineering: Instrumentation, Measurement and Control (SCQF Level 10)

Visit Apprenticeships Scotland for more details on apprenticeships in Scotland:

https://www.apprenticeships.scot/about/

Ireland

Apprentices are employed by a SOLAS-approved employer for the duration of the programme, generally between 2–4 years.  Apprenticeship programmes provide at least 50% workplace-based learning.

Examples of STEM apprenticeships include:

  • Laboratory Technician: a two-year apprenticeship with three days on the job and two days learning off the job, leading to the award Higher Certificate in Science (Level 6) Laboratory Technician
  • Laboratory Analyst: a three-year apprenticeship with three days on the job and two days learning off the job, leading to the award Ordinary Bachelor of Science Degree (Level 7) Laboratory Analyst

Visit the website Generation Apprenticeship for more details of apprenticeships in Ireland:

http://www.apprenticeship.ie/en/SitePages/Home.aspx

How much will I earn?

As an apprentice in the UK you’ll earn at least the minimum apprentice rate (£3.90 p/h from April 2019 and £4.15 from April 2020). The amount you earn will vary depending on your age and whether you’ve completed the first year of your apprenticeship. The job advert for the apprenticeship will outline the pay and in the STEM field it’s often above the minimum apprentice rate. For more details on apprenticeship pay visit: https://www.gov.uk/apprenticeships-guide/pay-and-conditions

For Ireland the rate of pay is agreed between the apprentice and the employer. Visit the website Generation Apprenticeship for more details:

http://www.apprenticeship.ie/en/SitePages/Home.aspx

Where can I find apprenticeships and how do I apply?

You can search and apply for apprenticeships online and also register to receive alerts.  Apprenticeships are advertised throughout the year with STEM apprenticeships typically starting in the autumn. The websites vary depending on whether you’re applying for an apprenticeship in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales or Ireland.

England: https://www.gov.uk/apply-apprenticeship

Northern Ireland: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/services/search-apprenticeship-opportunities

Scotland: https://www.apprenticeships.scot/find-a-vacancy/

Wales: https://ams.careerswales.com/Public/Default.aspx?mode=vacancy&type=ams

Ireland: http://www.apprenticeship.ie/en/SitePages/Home.aspx

Apprenticeships can also be advertised on employer and college/university websites, and will be advertised by the training providers themselves. Finding your local training provider and searching their website can be a good place to start.

To apply for the apprenticeship, you’ll need to complete an application form and submit your CV.

How will I balance my work and learning, and what support will I get?

It’s really important for you to be able to balance the demands of your job with your studies. There should be a range of ongoing support from your employer, such as regular progress meetings with your manager and learning provider, the identification of a mentor and any relevant development opportunities being highlighted to you. Your employer will work with your training provider to develop a clear programme that will outline when and where the training will take place so that you can demonstrate the knowledge and skills outlined in the apprenticeship.

What’s the difference between a degree apprenticeship and a degree?

Apprenticeships combine practical training in a real job with study, so if you’re interested in a career as a Laboratory Scientist you could undertake the Laboratory Scientist degree apprenticeship. This would allow you to complete a bachelor’s degree in a scientific discipline relevant to your job without having to pay course fees. You would gain all the skills and knowledge needed to do the job by actually doing it – demonstrating your competence at the end of the apprenticeship. You will also have the opportunity to apply for professional registration – more on this further down.

Some employers, when you complete a level 3 apprenticeship, will sponsor you to study a degree, by paying a proportion of the fees and offering day release to study. This is worth discussing with potential employers to see if it's an option. 

What is End-Point Assessment (EPA)?

EPA only applies in England.  At the end of an apprenticeship in England you’ll have to undertake an independent  assessment to demonstrate that you’ve achieved occupational competence. The EPA can take different forms but it will include at least two distinct assessment methods. It’s the employers responsibility to put you forward for EPA once they’re confident that you’re ready and you’ve completed the minimum period for the apprenticeship and any other requirements specified in the end point assessment plan. It’s important that you’re familiar with the end point assessment plan for your particular apprenticeship.

What are the benefits of joining a professional body during my apprenticeship?

There are many benefits to joining a professional body like the Institute of Physics as an apprentice – including developing your knowledge, supporting your career progression, helping you to build links within your professional community and enabling you to gain professional registration. It also gives you the chance to meet other apprentices at workshops and events. For more on the benefits of joining the Institute of Physics visit: https://membership.iop.org/become-a-member

What professional registrations can I apply for when I complete my apprenticeship – and what are the benefits?

The benefits of gaining professional registration include:

  • Public recognition of your knowledge and experience
  • Developing skills and confidence
  • Improving your chances of promotion
  • Demonstrating fitness for leadership

The professional registration will vary depending on the level of the apprenticeship and also the field. For example, in the Scientific field there are three registers: Registered Science Technician (RSciTech); Registered Scientist (Rsci); and Chartered Scientist (Csci). In Engineering the four registers are Engineering Technician (EngTech), Information and Communication Technology Technician (ICTTech), Incorporated Engineer (Ieng) and Chartered Engineer (Ceng).

Registered Science Technician (RsciTech) is for those completing advanced apprenticeships and modern apprenticeships (Scotland), technicians and technical support staff and is highly regarded within education and industry. Registered Scientist (Rsci) is for those completing higher and degree apprenticeships, and scientific and higher technical support staff.

Depending on your career path you could progress to gain recognition as a Chartered Scientist or Chartered Physicist.

To apply for professional registration, you need to demonstrate how you’ve met the individual competencies for it.

More information on our professional registration visit:

https://membership.iop.org/professional-registration