A beginner's guide to apprenticeships

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Apprenticeships can be an excellent way of attracting new talent, reskilling existing staff and tackling skills shortages. This page provides an overview for organisations that are new to offering apprenticeships. It includes information on apprenticeship levels and agreements and links to useful external resources.

What is an apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship is a genuine job which incorporates skills development, technical knowledge and practical experience, through a work-based training programme. They are available to anyone over the age of 16 and enable learners to demonstrate their competence while gaining a recognised qualification and earning a wage. 

It's important to note that employment is a fundamental part of an apprenticeship and an apprentice must be employed in a job role with a productive purpose. In addition, the minimum duration for an apprenticeship is 12 months and the apprentice must spend at least 20 per cent of their time on off-the-job training. On completion of the programme, an apprentice should remain with their employer where a job opportunity continues to exist. Where this is not possible, they must be supported to seek alternative opportunities.  

You must pay your apprentice for time spent training or studying for a relevant qualification, whether this is at work or attending a college/ training organisation. The current minimum wage rate for an apprentice is £3.70* per hour and applies to those under 19 years old, and those aged 19 and over who are in their first year (*figures correct as of 1 April 2018).

Those aged 19 or over who have completed their first year must be paid at the national minimum wage rate. Pay levels above the statutory wage floor are for employers and workers to agree. However, the government strongly encourages employers to pay more when they can afford it.

Read our key facts and figures document to find out more about how apprenticeships can deliver for your organisation.

Apprenticeship levels

There are a range of apprenticeship levels that lead to different qualifications, and they typically take between one and four years to complete. The table below shows how apprenticeship levels compare to other types of qualifications. 
Apprenticeship level
 Level descriptor
 Equivalent qualification

Level 1

Five GCSEs graded D-G

Level 2

Intermediate level apprenticeship

Five GCSEs grades A*-C

NVQ level 2

Key skills level 2

BTEC first diploma and certificate

Level 3

Advanced level apprenticeship

Two A/AS levels (any grade)

NVQ level 3

Key skills level 3

BTEC Diplomas, Certificates and Awards

Level 4

Higher level apprenticeship

Certificate of higher education

(first year of bachelor’s degree)

NVQ L4

Level 5

Higher level apprenticeship

Diploma of higher education

Foundation degree  (second year of bachelor’s degree)

Level 6

Degree level apprenticeship

Bachelor’s degree

Level 7

Degree level apprenticeship

Master’s degree

Apprenticeship agreements

Apprentices must have a contract of employment which is long enough for them to complete their training programme, and an apprenticeship agreement which forms part of their employment contract. This is in addition to the learning agreement which describes the learning programme. 

Apprenticeship agreements are written statements outlining the particulars of employment, including hours of work, holiday entitlement, rate of pay etc. 

Traineeships 

Traineeships are available for young people aged 16 to 24 and for people with an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan up to academic age 25. They give people the skills and vital experience needed to compete successfully for an apprenticeship or sustainable employment, including people with learning disabilities or difficulties. At their core is work preparation training, a high quality work experience placement with an employer, and English and maths for those who have not achieved a GCSE Grade C or equivalent. 

To find out more go to Traineeships.

Further information

The responses to the questions raised by employers about apprenticeships and the apprenticeship levy can be found on our Apprenticeships Q&A page. 

For information on employing apprentices, apprenticeship agreements, and the range of apprenticeships available, please visit the gov.uk website.

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