Apprenticeships: What’s in a name? | Abingdon Senior School

Apprenticeships: What’s in a name?
By Michael Triff, Head of Career Guidance

In Act II, Scene II of William Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, Juliet says of her beloved Romeo:

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

Why should it matter that Romeo is a Montague, a rival house of Juliet’s Capulet family? After all, Juliet contends, if Romeo had any other name, he would still be Romeo; names should not matter, because they don’t change who a person is.

Apprenticeships of today are not the same as apprenticeships of yesteryear. Yet, despite their reinvention, out-dated and undeserved stigmas stubbornly remain, in part because of a name. If only today’s ‘apprenticeships’ were called something different. They then might get more serious consideration alongside their post-16 and post-18 relatives.

So, what can be done to right this wrong? Well, a good starting point is simply to clarify what today’s apprenticeships are all about and why you (or your child) might wish to take a closer look before drawing a conclusion.

What is an Apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship is a real, paid job for between one and six years (depending upon the level of the apprenticeship and the industry). During this time, an apprentice works and studies and/or trains to gain a formal qualification offered by a further education college, university, or distance learning (online) provider. An apprentice may also be eligible to study for a professional qualification offered by their employer’s national trade body.

Apprentices can work three or four days a week, leaving the rest of the week (and weekend!) for study/training. Or they might work full-time for four weeks and be ‘block released’ for a week or more for study/training. The qualification associated with an apprenticeship is employer-selected (and often co-designed with an educational institution) and is intended to develop vocation-specific knowledge and skills which the employer needs to meet their specific workforce needs. Hence a degree of employer self-interest usually prevails.

An apprentice’s salary, benefits (holiday, paid leave and sick leave), and expenses are paid for by the employer, while a government grant (called a ‘co-investment’) helps the employer pay fees for the qualification. Salaries vary widely across sectors; Higher Apprenticeships (Level 4/5) average £12 per hour while Degree Apprenticeships (Level 6/7) can pay up to £14 per hour.

At the end of an apprenticeship, an apprentice may be offered a job (permanent or fixed term), continue on to the next level apprenticeship, or resume study full-time, including for a university degree (depending on the qualification gained during the apprenticeship).

When can you start an Apprenticeship?

Age 16+ – Advanced Apprenticeship:

Year 11 students who have five or more GCSEs (at grade C or above, usually including Maths and English) and are looking for a work-learning option may want to consider an Advanced Apprenticeship. This is usually 18-24 months long and includes study/training for a Level 3 qualification, such as an Applied General Qualification (eg. a BTEC), Technical-Level Qualification, T Level, or National Vocational Qualification.

Age 18+ – Level 4 or 5 Higher Apprenticeship or Level 6 Degree Apprenticeship:

School leavers with good Level 3 passes (including A Levels) can choose from two apprenticeships: a Level 4 or 5 Higher Apprenticeship or a Level 6 Degree Apprenticeship. A Higher Apprenticeship is usually two to four years long and includes study for a Higher National Certificate (Level 4), Higher National Diploma (Level 5), Foundation Degree (Level 5), or National Vocational Qualification (Level 4 or 5). A Degree Apprenticeship lasts four to six years (usually five) and includes study for a Bachelors Degree or (very occasionally) a Masters degree.

What industries typically offer Higher and Degree apprenticeships?

• Accountancy
• Armed Forces
• Automotive
• Banking
• Business
• Civil Service
• Computing and IT
• Construction
• Engineering
• Health and Social Care
• Human Resources
• Insurance
• Law
• Life Sciences
• Marketing and Sales
• Media
• Pharmaceuticals
• Property/Surveying
• Retail
• Telecommunications
• Utilities

Note: There are far more Advanced Apprenticeships available than there are Higher or Degree apprenticeships. This is down to how employers prioritise their apprenticeship investment.

Why consider an Apprenticeship?

There are a number of advantages to doing an apprenticeship:

• Enter your career earlier.
• Earn money and start a pension.
• Build credentials for your CV.
• Get a formal qualification at no cost and with no debt.
• After the apprenticeship, potentially receive a job offer, continue to the next level apprenticeship, or ‘top’ up your qualification, including possibly studying towards a university degree.
• Increase your employability in the job market.
• Build a professional network.
• Join a professional trade association.

Of course, there are a number of disadvantages, too:

• Balancing work with study/training can be difficult and high pressure.
• For Degree Apprenticeships, not a true residential ‘university experience’.
• No long holidays – 4-5 weeks of holiday per year the norm.
• Salaries paid to degree holders can be higher than salaries paid to those without degrees (i.e. those completing an Advanced or Higher Apprenticeship).

And, there are some considerations that can swing either way:

• Higher and Degree Apprenticeships are most often with very large organisations.
• Employer decides what qualification you do, not you.
• Employer chooses college, university, or distance-learning provider, not you.
• Education and training focuses on the employer’s needs, not necessarily yours.
• Students need to be ready to live independently and manage their life themselves.

In summary

For the student who is indifferent to having the residential ‘university experience’, whose occupational interests may not require a degree (at least to get started), who likes the idea of working and learning at the same time (and can handle the associated challenges), and who would rather avoid taking on a heavy burden of debt at the start of their career, an apprenticeship can be the perfect solution, especially if they can find the right apprenticeship with the right employer offering the right qualification.

If so, the only impediment remaining is getting over the name ‘apprenticeship’…and the presumption that an apprenticeship is simply not – could never be – right for them.

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