A young apprentice checking out the system with a screwdriver

What is an apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship offers young people and adult learners the ability to learn a real trade or skill, whilst gaining a nationally recognised qualification - these work-based training programmes are designed around the needs of you, the employer. 

An apprenticeship is not a qualification in itself, but a 'framework' consisting of a number of separately certified qualifications and courses, covering the skills, competences and underlying knowledge needed for a job.

The qualifications and knowledge gained in an apprenticeship will depend on the specialisation, however the framework would generally consist of:

  • a competence-based element e.g. NVQ/Diploma
  • a knowledge-based element/technical certificate e.g. BTEC
  • transferable skills e.g. key skills/functional skills in communication, numeracy, IT, working with others and improving own learning and performance
  • employment rights and responsibilities

Currently, 130,000 businesses from large national companies to smaller local companies across the UK offer apprenticeships, which are available in a wide range of industry sectors covering more than 170 industries and 1,500 job roles. In England, apprenticeships are offered at three different levels, Intermediate, Higher and Advanced, depending on the level of expertise you want your apprentice to gain. Because of the different levels available, an apprenticeship can take anything between one and five years to complete.

Most training is delivered on-the-job at an employer's premises, to minimise disruption and maximise impact, and apprentices work with a mentor to learn job specific skills. Off-the-job training is also undertaken by a training organisation, and this may be delivered in the workplace or through day or block release at premises away from the working environment.

Funding is available to train apprentices and employers can use train both new and existing employers as an apprentice. As an employer, you have to pay an apprentice's wages, however you could receive funding to support your apprenticeship programme, while the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers of 16-24-year-olds (AGE 16 to 24) aims to help eligible employers to offer young people employment through the apprenticeship programme, by providing wage grants to assist with recruitment.

What apprentices will do for your company:


Apprenticeships are a great way of attracting people with fresh, new ideas. In generating and executing these ideas, these apprentices can help grow your business. 


Taking on apprentices demonstrates that your business is socially responsible, and in turn it will raise your profile within the community. Furthermore, by taking on young people, you’ll be doing your bit for society, increasing their life chances, tackling unemployment in your area, and creating a more diverse workforce. 


The training that apprentices undergo will be up-to-date, so they may be learning skills that you currently don’t use in your workplace, keeping pace with the latest technology and working practices in your sector.


Apprenticeships are a great way of adding to your workforce in carrying out everyday tasks, while you can also tailor their learning to specific job roles, making them flexible to the needs of your business.


Investing in young people now means you’ll give your workforce the right mix of skills, tackle your current skills shortages, and plan for future skills and growth which may be especially important for the replacement of an aging workforce. 


As opposed to external recruitment, apprentices are more cost effective to recruit and train than experienced workers, gaining the same qualifications and practical skills in the long run, helping you to improve your productivity and be more competitive.


The training and time you are giving apprentices will increase the interest in training and skills gaining amongst your current employees. As apprentices tend to be eager, motivated, flexible and loyal to the company that invested in them, they can also help reduce staff turnover and absence rates. 

Furthermore, skills training UK states that apprenticeships:

  • Reduce staff turnover - 80% of companies who invest in apprentices have reported a significant increase in employee retention
  • Increased competitiveness - 77% of employers believe apprenticeships make them more competitive
  • Increased productivity - 76% of those employers who employer apprentices agree they make their workplace more productive
  • More motivated workforce - 88% of employers believe apprenticeships lead to a more motivated and satisfied workforce
  • Lower costs - 59% believe that apprenticeships lead to lower overall training costs and 53% feeling that they reduce recruitment costs. 59% report that training apprentices is more cost-effective than hiring skilled staff, with
  • in terms of the return on investment linked to apprenticeships, 41% say that their apprentices make a valuable contribution to the business during the training period, while a further third report that apprentices add value within their first few weeks. 
  • Promote social responsibility - 81% of consumers favour using a company which take on apprentices and shows a commitment to the local community
  • Fill your skills gap - 83% of employers who employ apprentices rely on their apprenticeship programme to provide the skilled workers that they need for the future
  • Progression planning - 57% report a high proportion of their apprentices going on to management positions within the company.

For more information, please see the government apprenticeship website.

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