Building future skills with apprenticeships


University is not for everyone. For many young people getting out into the workplace is by far the better option.

But some careers require extra learning, which is not easy to arrange with a full time job. Unless you choose the apprentice route.

Particularly popular in the 1950s and 60s, they have received a huge boost over the last few years, culminating with the new apprenticeship levy which will help boost funding to £2.5 billion by 2019/20. The Government want to create 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020.

So what are they?

Apprenticeships allow anyone aged 16 or over to work alongside skilled professionals to learn a trade, have time off to study and be paid while they qualify. An apprenticeship can take between one and four years depending on the level taken.

There are 3 levels of apprenticeship available:

  • Intermediate level apprenticeship (level 2) – equivalent to 5 A*- C GCSEs
  • Advanced level apprenticeship (level 3) – equivalent to 2 A-levels
  • Higher level apprenticeship (level 4 and above) – foundation degree and above.

You can become an apprentice in pretty much any industry – they are available in 1,500 job roles, covering more than 170 industries – from advertising to youth work to engineer to recruitment consultancy.

The proof

Loads of the biggest companies such as British Gas, Google and Sky offer apprenticeships as they know how beneficial they are to their company. In a recent survey 89% of employers said they helped improve the quality of their business or service. As for apprentices themselves, a quarter are promoted within 12 months of finishing their apprenticeship.

In their own words

British Gas has invested over £14m into its apprentice schemes and has an army of 12,000 stationed round the country.

Natalie Foster  – engineering apprentice

 “When I turned 30, I decided if I didn’t quit and retrain, I’d never do it. So I applied to do a one-year college course in plumbing, which ticked all the boxes for me. It was hands-on, there was lots of contact with customers and it rekindled my love of fixing things. Afterwards, I ended up in commercial plumbing, fitting out new offices. Deep down, I wanted that face-to-face contact with customers so I applied for a British Gas apprenticeship. I had to go through an incredibly rigorous selection process and was ecstatic when I heard that I’d beaten 10,000 other applicants to land the position. Now I spend half my time learning theory and the rest out on jobs with my brilliantly supportive mentors.”

Steve Tailor – smart meter apprentice

 “There’s a very practical, hands-on style to the way we learn, and that really suits me as I’m used to learning with my hands. The banter is so good it’s almost like being back in the army again. We’re often out and about meeting customers.

“One of things you learn in the army is that your equipment is everything. I always make sure everything is working and squared away. I might not be stripping down my machine gun any more, but I always know where my hammer is!”

Kirsty Haig – now qualified engineering apprentice

“All types of people become apprentices. I applied for the apprenticeship because I decided that I wanted to keep my mind busy and I’d be doing something physical rather than sitting behind a desk. When I started, I didn’t know one end of a screwdriver to another. A year down the line I got my Gas Safe badge so I was competent, then I went out on my own.

“People told me I should further my career, so I applied for a secondment to British Gas’ Thatcham academy. A couple of months later, here I am with my own group. It’s really daunting when you’ve got 12 faces looking back at you, expecting you to know everything. But my confidence has grown already, and it’s amazing. I walked into the office yesterday, very excited that they had actually learned how to service a boiler within the first three weeks. I was very proud.”

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