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An employer's guide to apprenticeships

Taking on an apprentice is a unique, highly effective way to shape and develop your own talent. Read our detailed FAQs to find out how to get an apprenticeship up and running.  

So 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 while you get to grow and shape your own talent. If your business needs Laboratory Scientists, for example, then you could recruit Laboratory Scientist apprentices.

Apprenticeships are designed by employers and tailored to meet the needs of your particular industry. They give you the opportunity to invest in talent while improving economic productivity.

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 apprenticeships are available?

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

England, Northern Ireland and Wales

NameLevelEquivalent education levelExample apprenticeship
Intermediate25 GCSE passesHealthcare Science Assistant
Advance32 A-level passesLaboratory Technician
Higher*4, 5, 6, 7Foundation degree and aboveTechnician Scientist
Degree**6, 7Bachelor’s or master’s degreeLaboratory 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. More details on apprenticeships in NI are at NI Direct.

** Currently only available in England and Wales

The National Apprenticeship Service has more details on apprenticeships in England.

More details on apprenticeships in Wales can be found at Careers Wales.


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 master’s e.g. Engineering: Instrumentation, Measurement and Control (SCQF Level 10)

Skills Development Scotland has more details on apprenticeships in Scotland.


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

More details of apprenticeships in Ireland are at Generation Apprenticeship.

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

Apprenticeships combine practical training in a real job with study – so if you have a role for a laboratory scientist you could employ a laboratory scientist degree apprentice. This would allow them to complete a bachelor’s degree in a scientific discipline relevant to their job without having to pay course fees. The apprentice would gain the skills and knowledge needed to do the job by actually doing it – demonstrating their competence at the end of their apprenticeship. They will also have the opportunity to apply for professional registration – more on this further down.

How do I establish a suitable role for an apprentice?

The role you identify should allow the apprentice to gain the knowledge, skills and behaviours they need to successfully complete the apprenticeship. It must be a real job with a contract of employment long enough for the apprentice to complete the programme. You also need to bear in mind the fact that at least 20% of their time will be spent on off-the-job training.

In Ireland employers who want to employ apprentices are required to complete an approval process, as apprentices can only be taken on by SOLAS-approved employers. The apprenticeship programmes in Ireland also provide at least 50% workplace-based learning

How do I choose a training provider and what do I need to consider?

There are lots of providers, some national, some local, and they can deliver the apprenticeship in a number of ways:

  • Onsite, where the training provider comes to your workplace
  • Offsite, where the apprentice spends time each week at the training provider’s location
  • Block, where the apprentice spends 3-4 weeks at the training provider’s location

Once you’ve determined a suitable role and potential apprenticeship you can approach a training provider. The websites listing providers vary depending on whether you’re in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales.

In England there is a register of apprenticeship training providers (ROATP) and you can search for apprenticeship training by job role, along with a list of training providers that offer the training. By nation:

NI Direct for Northern Ireland for Scotland

SkillsGateway for Wales (PDF, 1.1MB)

Generation Apprenticeship for Ireland

How much do I pay the apprentice?

In the UK an apprentice will earn at least the minimum apprentice rate (currently £3.90 p/h, rising to £4.15 from April 2020). The amount they earn will vary depending on their age and whether they’ve completed the first year of their 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 pay see the government guidance.

For Ireland the rate of pay is agreed between the apprentice and the employer. Generation Apprenticeship has more details of apprenticeships in Ireland:

What is the apprenticeship levy?

The apprenticeship levy came into force in April 2017, with all UK employers (public, private and third sector) with a pay bill of over £3m a year paying a levy of 0.5% of their annual wage bill. The nations of the UK have different administrative arrangements for funding apprenticeships and other skills training.

For non-levy paying employers in England at least 95% of the apprenticeship training and assessment costs will be paid for by the government. The Scottish Qualifications Authority has created a useful guide: A Brief Guide to Apprenticeships Across the UK and the Introduction of the Levy.

In Ireland the national apprenticeship system is funded through the National Training Fund and the Exchequer.

What is an employer’s role and what makes a successful apprenticeship?

As with any other employee, you need to pay the apprentice’s salary and offer the same working conditions as you would for staff in similar roles. You’ll need to work with your training provider to develop a programme that will outline when and where the training will take place so that the apprentice can demonstrate the knowledge and skills outlined in the apprenticeship. It’s also important to arrange ongoing support for your apprentice, help them to balance the demands of the role with their studies, identify a mentor and highlight relevant development opportunities where they arise.

What is End-point Assessment (EPA)?

EPA only applies in England. At the end of an apprenticeship, apprentices need to undertake an independent assessment to demonstrate that they have achieved occupational competence. The EPA can take different forms but will include at least two distinct assessment methods. It’s the employer’s responsibility to put the apprentice forward for EPA once they feel they’re ready and have completed the minimum period for the apprenticeship and any other requirements specified in the End-point Assessment plan.

How do I select an End-point Assessment (EPA) Organisation?

You’ll need to choose an organisation that’s on the register of End-point Assessment (EPA) organisations, and that specialises in the level of apprenticeship you want to set up. Once you’ve selected the EPA organisation the lead training provider will contract with them on your behalf.

Browse the register of EPA organisations

What professional registrations are available to my employees and what are the benefits?

Professional registration recognises standards of excellence in the practice of science, commits your employees to continuing professional development and demonstrates that you invest in the talent of your staff. Benefits include:

  • Assurance of quality
  • Motivated staff
  • Continuous improvement
  • Ethical standards

Benefits for your staff include:

  • Public recognition of knowledge and experience
  • Developing skills and confidence
  • Improving 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 their career paths they could progress to gain recognition as a Chartered Scientist or Chartered Physicist.

To apply for professional registration, your staff will need to demonstrate how they have met the individual competencies for it.

More information on our professional registration.

Are there opportunities to work with other employers to further develop apprenticeships?

Absolutely. The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education website outlines how employers can get involved with the development of apprenticeship standards.