For this year's National Apprenticeship Week, Cheryl Hancock, a Careers Coach on our ASK Apprenticeships programme, gives her top tips on apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships are a brilliant route into a huge variety of careers but they can seem confusing at first. This blog is about the things you need to know before choosing an apprenticeship, including some of the challenges you will face. Read it and you’ll have a better chance of making the right decision about whether to pursue an apprenticeship, and what kind to apply for.

What is an apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship is a form of education. It’s a job with training, and a great way to earn a salary while learning relevant skills and gaining professional experience. As well as working in their job, apprentices are usually taught by a training provider for a period during the working week. They may be allocated some study time during working hours but are also expected to study in their own time. Learning and training may take place in a classroom, at work premises or remotely (or a mixture of these). There are four categories of apprenticeship: intermediate, advanced, higher and degree. They take from one to six years to complete.

What’s great about apprenticeships?

  • You earn while you learn, working within your chosen career at a junior level while becoming more qualified in it.
  • Apprentices can get ahead of the game compared to students who study in more academic environments like university, because they gain professional experience and valuable workplace skills.
  • Once you’ve completed your apprenticeship you will be very valuable to your employer, who will have invested a lot in you. A great majority of apprentices stay in employment after their apprenticeship, with most continuing to work with the same employer.
  • You can apprentice in almost anything, gaining qualifications up to the level of a Master’s degree. You can apprentice in the police, architecture, law, accounting, agriculture, food, beauty, health and social care, IT and many more.
  • Apprenticeships are funded, so you will avoid student debts. Instead, you earn a salary and gain great experience while you learn. Apprentices always develop professionally, even those who apprentice later in life, as many do.

The challenges of apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are fun and exciting, but they are also hard work and challenging. It is important that you go into them with your eyes open and think about how hard you’re prepared to work before you start. You also need to choose the right apprenticeship for you.

  • You need a great work ethic, and apprenticeships don’t suit all people. You have to be ready to go work every day and not be late. If you’ve come straight out of education, the hours can be challenging. You will go from having 14 weeks’ holiday per year to more like 20 days or so.
  • Employers are investing into you and will expect you to work hard. The consequences for poor performance or attendance at work can include disciplinary action or losing your job.
  • As an apprentice you’re on an extended probation period, which means employers only have to give you a week’s notice if they’re not happy with your performance.

Find the right apprenticeship for you

To give yourself the best chance of choosing the right opportunity for you, think about these things before you apply for an apprenticeship:

  • What qualification/career do you want? It must be something that motivates you.
  • What kind of training does the apprenticeship involve, and is it the right kind for you? Employers can choose the training provider they work with, and each training provider will work differently.
  • The training provider can tell you how they will deliver the academic side of your qualification, so it’s worth researching this. It is important the training method works for you. Knowing how you like to learn is a big part of this. If you hated the isolation of lockdown and don’t like online or remote learning, a training provider who works entirely online might not work for you

How to research training providers and their methods

  • Later in this blog you’ll see some resources, like the Government’s Find an Apprenticeship tool. Click into the relevant apprenticeship on this (or other) resource sites to find information about the training provider and modules.
  • Contact the training provider and get as much information as you can about the apprenticeship training format. This not only helps you make an informed choice, but when you have your interview with the employer, you can impress them with your knowledge of the company, the role and your understanding of how the training is delivered.

Other things to bear in mind

  • Make sure you can afford to live - you need to plan carefully for your life as an apprentice. Some young people plan to leave home for the first time while they apprentice. You need to factor in these costs and ensure you can afford to live.
  • You won’t love every minute - no job is wonderful all the time, and since apprenticeships include a lot of learning too, there will be times when you just have to grind through.
  • You can leave if you don’t like it - you can normally leave your apprenticeship with a week’s notice if it’s not the right choice for you but this means giving up your vocational qualification. If you still want to do an apprenticeship, you’ll have to start again and find a new one.
  • Always have backup options - I recommend you have a backup plan in case you aren’t successful applying for an apprenticeship. For instance, if you’re applying for a degree-level apprenticeship, apply to a university as well, so you can still study your chosen subject.
  • Make sure you know why you’re there - do all this background research so that when you arrive to start your apprenticeship, you know exactly why you’re there. Of course you’ll be inexperienced and will grow on the job – that’s the point.
  • Success is about your attitude, not just your grade - generally (though not always) apprentices secure permanent roles with their employer because of their attitude and energy more than their grades. When you graduate, you are more likely to be offered a permanent job if you work hard and your employer likes you than because you get top marks in your qualification. Of course top marks are great, and you should do your best with your studies too!

How to find apprenticeships

The Government's Find an Apprenticeship tool is a good place to start looking for apprenticeships near you, and many of the available apprenticeships can be found on the Amazing Apprenticeships website, run by ASK Apprenticeships.

It’s also worth identifying organisations you’d like to work for and checking the careers section of their websites, as many advertise apprenticeship vacancies this way. Larger employers often have long recruitment cycles with application windows up to a year in advance of the start date, so it is never too early to start looking. You could also look at Not Going To Uni.

Good luck!


Learn more about the ASK Apprenticeships programme.