For National Apprenticeship Week 2021, we asked Claire Reeves, Manager of our ASK Apprenticeships programme, to share her knowledge and experience of this exciting option and the benefits it offers.

It’s National Apprenticeship Week 2021, so look out for the rich bank of resources that will be shared across digital media throughout the week to help people learn about and apply for apprenticeships. The best way to do so is to follow the hashtags #NAW2021, #AmazingAppsUK, #JustASK and the @AmazingAppsUK Twitter account.

Having helped to facilitate apprenticeships in various forms for many years, I want to give a personal take on the outstanding value and richness of this still-misunderstood route into work. I should probably begin by addressing an obvious question.

What is an apprenticeship?

In brief, an apprenticeship is a job with training, a way to “earn while you learn”. Apprentices learn relevant skills on the job and may attend classroom-based training with a training provider. There are four levels: intermediate, advanced, higher and degree, and they take from one to six years to complete, depending on qualifications and skills. Make no mistake, apprenticeship is education—but it’s education on the job.

Large firms often have a sizeable intake of apprentices at once, who receive the more academic part of their training through internal or external training providers. Smaller organisations may have day release, allowing apprentices to study at college or through online tutorials (where they can also socialise with other apprentices, which we’ll come to). 

Advantages of apprenticeships

Before I joined Adviza I worked as a Learning and Recruitment Manager for an engineering firm. I helped organise intakes of young apprentices who joined with A-levels and gained further qualifications under the scheme.

I was hugely impressed by their progress over the four or five years of their blended working and learning. These were young people who joined us with (understandably) little work experience and quickly developed into mature, competent and loyal professionals, much the richer for their exposure to the realities of working life.

I saw that apprenticeships allowed employers to mould great employees, providing them with relevant qualifications while building their skillsets and embedding company-specific knowledge and general work skills. Apprentices absorb the often-mysterious particularities of an organisation—its jargon, processes and cultural nuances—alongside learning the hard skills required for their role. The combination of practical experience, academic study and cultural assimilation can result in motivated, knowledgeable staff any employer would be glad to have.

Perception and reality

There are some lingering perceptions about apprenticeships that need to be put to rest, mostly to do with the supposedly limited breadth and depth of careers and qualifications available. But apprenticeships have changed in the last couple of decades. In reality, there is little you can’t do or study as an apprentice. You can apprentice in the police force, or as a lawyer or architect. You can earn degrees or Master’s degrees. You can earn anything from a living wage to good money as an apprentice—that’s before you qualify.

Myth-busting and benefits: apprenticeships at a glance

  • Just as with degrees or training generally, apprenticeships are not only for school-leavers. Their popularity is rising with older people as we work longer into our lives and more people switch sectors or roles in their mid- or late-career. In 2018/19, 36,000 apprenticeships were held by those aged 45-59 years. The same year saw an uplift of 21% from the previous year in apprenticeships among the 35-44 age group*.
  • Most apprenticeships offer a decent living wage and many pay well. Even so, apprenticeships are about what you could earn once you finish; they’re a doorway to great careers.
  • A vast range of sectors and business functions offer apprenticeships. I’ve mentioned the police, architecture and law, but others include accounting, agriculture, food, beauty, health and social care and IT.
  • Apprentices are well-placed to refine and pursue their career goals as they can discover lots about their chosen career, and the options within it, as they learn.

Apprentices don’t have to miss out on a great social scene in comparison to their counterparts in full-time education. Apprentice intakes often form powerful social connections among themselves, while those in smaller companies can bond with their day release peers.

Around 85% of apprentices stay in employment after their apprenticeship, with about two-thirds of those continuing to work with the same employer—testimony to the bond created between employers and apprentices.

The role of education in preparing students for apprenticeships

I hope I’ve made it clear that I think apprenticeships are brilliant! I encourage teachers to map what they are teaching in the classroom to potential careers and to ensure young people know all the opportunities available to them, which includes apprenticeships as well as the UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) route to further education.

ASK Apprenticeships provides a rich bank of resources to help anyone learn more, they will be easy to find this week. Just look out for those hashtags!

Postscript: Apprenticeship Resources

Many of the available apprenticeships can be found on the Amazing Apprenticeships website, run by ASK Apprenticeships.

It’s also worth candidates identifying organisations they’d like to work for, and reviewing the careers section of their websites, as many advertise apprenticeship vacancies this way.

The Government's Find an Apprenticeship tool is a good place to start looking for apprenticeships near you. Many national companies operate recruitment cycles with application windows up to a year in advance of the start date, so it is never too early to start looking. 

I’m always happy to talk about apprenticeships, so get in touch if you have any questions – whether you’re a teacher, student or professional hoping to switch careers. Email [email protected].

Find out more about ASK Apprenticeships

*House of Commons Briefing Paper Number 06113, 27 August 2020.