Applying for an Apprenticeship

If you’ve recently read our article on the benefits of completing an apprenticeship, no doubt you’re feeling fired up by the possibility of laying the foundations of a great career for yourself and gaining solid qualifications, not to mention getting paid while you do so.

So let’s take you through the key information of what you need to know about how the qualifications and work-experience parts of apprenticeship schemes work, as well as how you can find apprenticeship vacancies near you and boost your chances of successfully being offered an apprenticeship place.

Different Levels of Apprenticeships

The first thing that it is important to understand is that there are three different levels of apprenticeship out there. As you’d expect, the higher the level the more demanding the apprenticeship, and also ultimately the more skilled the job that comes at the end of it. The different levels of apprenticeships also reflect the different levels of qualification that participants get from them, based on the Government’s National Qualifications Framework (NQF) and the level system for National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs). In many cases, these different levels build on one another, with the apprentice completing the first level before then moving on to a more advanced one.

The Levels Explained

There are three different apprenticeship levels: intermediate, advanced and higher. Let’s take a look at them.

Intermediate: This is the entry-level apprenticeship. The qualifications that apprentices get from it are all at NQF or NVQ level two. Typically in completing an intermediate-level apprenticeship an individual will take a level two NVQ, along with a functional skills qualification, which is designed to ensure that your grasp of English, mathematics and ICT–essential skills for virtually any job–are up to scratch.

In the case of some intermediate-level apprenticeships, apprentices also take a more classroom-based level-two qualification related to their area of work, for example a BTEC or a City & Guilds qualification. It’s important to be aware of the difference between these sorts of qualifications and NVQs. Whereas most of the learning and assessment for an NVQ is done through work experience–for example workplace observation–BTECs tend to be more based around formal study that can take the form of lectures, classes, workshops, seminars and self-study. You’ll find out more about exactly what the study requirements for an intermediate apprenticeship are when by looking at vacancies for your chosen apprenticeship area.

Although apprenticeship lengths vary from one position to the next, intermediate apprenticeships tend to be shorter in duration than higher-level ones, with many being of the minimum apprenticeship length of one year.

Advanced – The advanced apprenticeship offers essentially the same mixture of qualifications as the intermediate level, with the NVQs, BTECs or other qualifications this time being at level three. This means that although in many respects this level of apprenticeship offers the same balance of work and study as an intermediate one, the academic side can be more demanding, as obviously are also the nature of the work tasks that will be expected of advanced apprentices. Advanced apprenticeships also tend to be longer than intermediate ones, with some lasting up to three years.

Another important aspect of the advanced apprenticeship is that the level of qualifications it provides can be used for the purposes of applying to university, with different level 3 BTECs translating into different UCAS points.

Higher – Although a higher apprenticeship also follows the same combination of functional skills, work-based training and study-based qualifications of the lower two levels, its higher level has some important implications. For one thing, higher apprenticeships tend to pay more, and are principally for those who already have a certain level of knowledge and experience in their chosen area. They also tend to be of a longer duration, a reflection of the fact that they are equipping the apprentice with a larger and more complex body of knowledge.

The Level 4 or 5 qualifications taken by higher apprentices are even more highly rated within the university admissions process than level 3 ones, and in some cases can even allow direct entry onto later years of university courses. Accordingly, if your ultimate career goal is a profession that requires a university degree, a higher apprenticeship is a great way to get the qualifications you need to study that course at university.

Preparing to apply for an apprenticeship

There are three main avenues for finding apprenticeship vacancies: searching directly for employer vacancies, searching for apprenticeship courses organized through your local college, or using one of the centralised search engines such as ucasprogress.com or apprenticeships.org.uk.

The first two of these options are particularly appealing if you’ve got a specific employer or place of study in mind. If you do, just head to their website and see what opportunities they have. It’s likely you’ll find that applying for apprenticeships through colleges is a bit different to applying direct to employers, with the latter being a bit more wedded to the traditional elements of a job application such as a CV and cover letter. The downside to applying through a college, however, is that often they leave it to you to find the work-placement side of your apprenticeship, so in some respects you are having to apply twice.

However, at least consulting one of the main apprenticeship vacancy search engines is probably a good idea, as you could well hit on opportunities that you hadn’t considered before but which turn out to really appeal to you. As is to be expected, any vacancies you do find through these search engines will require more or less the same elements of a CV, an application form and so forth.

Of course, finding the vacancies is one thing. Successfully getting an interview and then an offer is quite another. For tips on how to do that, head on over to our section on job applications.