How apprenticeships differ around the UK apprentices taking down notes

Understanding trade apprenticeships in England, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland

Pursuing a trade apprenticeship is a great way to work alongside experienced staff and to learn new skills. But did you know that they differ depending on where in the UK you live? Read on to find out more.

Pursuing a trade apprenticeship is a great way to work alongside experienced staff and to learn new skills. As an apprentice, you will work towards a recognised qualification through a training provider, while also being employed full time.

 But did you know that the way that an apprentice works towards that qualification differs depending on where in the UK you're based? Click on your region below to learn more, or read on to find out how apprenticeships differ around the UK, which companies provide them and the trades that are available.

Why trade apprenticeships differ around the UK

Different national agencies are responsible for running trade apprenticeships in their jurisdictions.

Each agency will have a specific set of priorities and funding sources depending upon the type of apprenticeship. Here’s a short breakdown of the distinctions.

Understanding apprenticeships in England

Any person over the age of 16 can pursue apprenticeships in England.

It’s a great way to get a job and to get paid the minimum wage (or higher depending upon your employer) while you’re learning skills and gaining some hands-on experience, whilst also supplying you with a qualification (which is desirable to many employers).

Some apprenticeships might ask for particular qualifications before you apply, such as GCSEs or a diploma, but what these are will depend upon the agency you go through and the trade you’re looking to work in. 

If you’re already working in a particular trade, you might benefit from taking up an apprenticeship course alongside your normal work to gain a little extra knowledge. This could in turn allow for new opportunities in the future, or help move you along to further and higher qualifications like a degree.

How do apprenticeships in Scotland work?

Each year, thousands of young people pursue apprenticeships in Scotland, or ‘Modern Apprenticeships’ as they are known there.

Modern Apprenticeships is the body that provides apprenticeships in Scotland and training is funded by a company called Skills Development Scotland (SDS), with the way the training is formatted being decided by the Sector Skills Council.

Aside from the name, the main difference between apprenticeships in these two countries is that in Scotland you can qualify for an apprenticeship from school leaving age, which is 15 – slightly younger than in England.

From 2017, England will also introduce over 300 ‘standards’, which will be designed by groups of employers to assess the apprenticeship programmes at four levels: intermediate, higher, advanced and degree. Scotland, however, will continue to use ‘frameworks’ for apprenticeships, of which there are over 80 at four levels: Foundation, Modern, Technical and Professional.

Apprenticeships in Northern Ireland

Apprenticeships in Northern Ireland are overseen by ApprenticeshipsNI.

The same qualifications are used as in England and Wales and as with England, apprentices in Northern Ireland must be 16.

The apprenticeship involves working a minimum of 21 hours per week and candidates must meet a set of entry criteria, which may require particular qualifications depending upon the type of apprenticeship being applied for.

If an apprentice is over 25 there are restrictions on the funding available, and there are also eligibility considerations for EU nationals.

How do apprenticeships in Wales work?

In Wales an across-sector qualification framework is used that complies with the Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for Wales (SASW).

As in the rest of the UK, if you undertake an apprenticeship in Wales your employer will pay your wage, but the bulk of the training is paid for by the Welsh Government. The rest is currently supported by the European Social Fund.

You can pursue your apprenticeship in Wales by studying in either English or Welsh. Bilingual approaches benefit employers who use the Welsh language to enhance customer service, increase customer loyalty and expand target markets.

Thinking of becoming an apprentice? Consider these trades

Becoming an apprentice can be an exciting journey and there are all sorts of routes you can go down to become a skilled worker.

Skilled trade apprenticeships can equip you with the learning and skills you need to earn a good living and secure long term employment.

Here are just some of the skilled trade apprenticeships that are available.

Could a plumbing apprenticeship be in the pipeline?

A plumbing apprenticeship offers you a solid base for building a career in plumbing.

You will attend training sessions while you are working within the industry, learning practical skills that will equip you to work for a company or help you set up on your own in time.

Through a plumbing apprenticeship you’ll learn all about industry standards, health and safety, domestic systems and piping and more complex areas such as gas safety and water regulations.

Courses can lead onto further qualifications in construction, boiler maintenance and advanced apprenticeships, which could help your employment prospects in the future.

A building apprenticeship will start your career on a solid foundation

Through a building apprenticeship you will work on a construction site either in commercial or domestic premises.

You might begin in a particular area such as painting, plumbing, bricklaying, resurfacing masonry, finishing concrete and rendering surfaces. This can lead on to more complex building work such as joinery or erecting complex structures such as traditional cut roofs.

By pursuing a building apprenticeship you will learn variety of skills, such as how to handle all kinds of materials, which could enable you to develop a traditional and qualified role in a business or organisation once you’ve completed the apprenticeship.

Electrical apprenticeships are ideal for bright sparks

If you undertake an electrical apprenticeship you will learn how to become responsible for the installation, maintenance and repair of electrics in a variety of circumstances.

Electrical contracting is part of the construction industry, so you may find yourself working in both domestic premises and more commercial settings such as hospitals, schools. You’ll also be working indoors as well as outside.

The exact nature of your job will vary depending on the type of work your employer does, but your training allows you to develop the knowledge and skills you need to pursue your work safely and accurately in any setting.

Being an electrician includes a wide range of tasks and can include anything from installing electrical systems such as light sockets, alarms and heating, to diagnosing faults on circuits and writing reports.

Reckon you measure up? Consider a carpentry apprenticeship 

A carpentry apprenticeship provides you with a range of practical skills and knowledge, from the basics of woodworking joints, using hand tools and portable power tools, all the way through to erecting complex structures, fixtures and fittings. All of which is supported by an in-depth knowledge of construction methods and health and safety.

By becoming an apprentice in carpentry and joinery you can experience a variety of workplaces, both domestic and commercial. An eye for technical detail and good mathematical skills are beneficial.

Taking on an apprentice

Employers can benefit a great deal by taking on an apprentice.

Not only does taking on an apprentice improve your corporate image (consumers favour companies that take on apprentices), but making a skills investment in an apprentice can improve productivity, loyalty, motivation and commitment. An apprentice could also help to fill a skills gap and help develop specialisms in your business.

Apprenticeships help ensure employees are up to date with standards and regulations and familiar with new technology. So investing in individuals is also an investment in the future of a company.

It’s important to note that apprentices are treated as employees by law. So if you're thinking of taking an apprentice on, or you already have one working for you, you will need to ensure that you have employers’ liability insurance in place as this is a legal requirement for all employing businesses.

Securing the future with an apprenticeship in the UK

Pursuing an apprenticeship is a great investment for a future career. Many former apprentices will even go on to eventually go on to set up their own businesses or become self employed.

If you decide to go down this route, or you’re already a self-employed tradesman, you’ll need to have public liability insurance in place. This will allow you to cover yourself and your business against claims made by a third party for bodily injury or property damage. Giving you the security you need to make the most of all your training, time investment and hard work.

If you are looking for an apprenticeship in the UK continue your research by reading more about apprenticeship frameworks for all business skills areas.

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Last Updated: 08 Aug 2016