Simple guide to Apprenticeships

What is an Apprenticeship?

An Apprenticeship combines work and study at the same time. Each Apprenticeship course (or programme) has been developed to suit the job, sector and size of the company the training will take place in. It can last anywhere between 12 months and four years.

Apprenticeship Levels

Apprenticeship levels

There are three levels of Apprenticeship:

        Intermediate      Level 2, which is equivalent to five ‘good’ (Grades A*–C) GCSEs
​        Advanced           Level 3, which is equivalent to two ‘A’ Levels
        Higher                Levels 4 and above which are equivalent to a HNC, HND or Foundation Degree

Most people associate Apprenticeships with Levels 2 and 3, but Higher Apprenticeships are a credible alternative to university education. See the Higher Apprenticeships page for more information.  


Every Apprenticeship follows an approved Framework. There are over 200 frameworks covering more than 170 industries and 1,500 job roles. The Framework covers all the statutory requirements for an Apprenticeship in England. It ensures that all Apprenticeships are delivered consistently and to national standards.

Several qualifications are put together to create a framework that will prepare a learner for a future at that particular company and give them wider skills to understand the sector as a whole. The framework includes the names of all qualifications and what each qualification is worth to the whole Apprenticeship, plus it gives guidance on the time it will take and career paths available after an Apprenticeship.

A Framework includes:​

  • A nationally recognised Vocational Qualification such as an NVQ. This is a competence-based, on-the-job, qualification requiring the apprentice to produce examples of work done which will be externally assessed. 
  • A Technical Certificate such as a BTEC or City&Guilds qualification that is relevant to the specific Apprenticeship. This is a knowledge-based qualification delivered off-the-job either as day release or on the employer’s premises. These complement the vocational qualifications, developing the knowledge of the apprentice in the theory and application of what is learnt in the workplace.
  • Functional Skills. This includes maths and English as well as IT (or ICT). There is provision for additional training in maths and English if the apprentice has not reached accepted levels. On occasion, the apprentice will not have to take Functional Skills at all; this occurs if they have achieved certain qualifications and grades previously (e.g. GCSE and/or ‘A’ Levels), but the qualification and grade needed will vary from level to level and subject chosen.
  • Personal Learning and Thinking Skills. This includes problem solving, communication skills, learning to work as part of a team and managing priorities.
  • Employer Rights and Responsibilities. This includes employer and employee statutory rights and responsibilities, as well as legislation in areas such as equality and diversity, and health and safety. It’s important that the employer realises that an apprentice isn’t the finished article, and they are expected to support the training of each individual.
  • To support the needs of very small employers (those with less than 10 employees), up to two extra business units can be added to an apprentice’s programme in subjects such as Business Administration, Finance, Accounting, Law and Human Resource Management, but you need to speak to the training provider of your choice to see if you are eligible.

Who provides the training?

Car Maintenance Tutor and Learner

There are many specialist training companies across the UK that train apprentices. A Training Company (or provider) will work closely with an employer to find the Apprenticeship Framework which is the best fit for the role, employer and apprentice. A Training Provider may be a local college or may be an Independent Training Provider (private, charity or social enterprise) that has been approved for training apprentices.

Most of the training is on-the-job at the employer’s premises, working with existing employees to learn job-specific skills in the workplace. Off-the-job training may be delivered by external trainers in the workplace or through ‘day or block release’ at premises away from the working environment. 

You can search for training companies that are members of our training network on this website. Alternatively, The National Apprenticeship Service's Small Business Team will help to identify the most appropriate Training Provider for an employer, based on location, job role, sector and track record.

Once appointed, the Training Provider will undertake the administration of the Apprenticeship, including assessing their strengths and weaknesses, recruitment, and will offer support throughout.

Government Funding towards Apprenticeships

The level of Government funding towards training, varies depending on the sector and the age of the apprentice at the start of the training. The funding is paid directly to the Apprenticeship Training Provider.

- If the apprentice is aged 16 –18 years old (on their Apprenticeship start date), they will receive 100% of the cost of the training.

- If the apprentice is 19+, the training cost will be split between Government funding and the employer. The percentage paid by the employer is dependent on many factors; which your selected training company will be able to talk you through on a case by case basis.    

If paying for training isn’t an option, read our 24+ Advanced Learning Loan section which explains other options that can be financed over a period of time.

AGE Grant

The Apprenticeship Grant for Employers (AGE) of £1,500 is payable directly to small businesses with less than 50 employees that recruit individuals aged 16–24 into employment through the Apprenticeship programme. Employers can receive up to five grants in total, each worth £1,500, subject to eligibility and availability. There are no restrictions on what the grant may be used for. There are also regional AGE grants too, from local councils. To find out if you are eligible and money is available - please talk to the training company you select to learn more about AGE grants - they will answer your questions on an induvidual basis. 

Employer Responsibilities

Employer Teaching StaffAn apprentice must be employed by the business and is essentially the same as any other employee. The employer is responsible for paying the apprentice’s wages and issuing their Contract of Employment.

There also needs to be an Apprenticeship Agreement in place – this is a legally required written agreement between the employer, apprentice and training company containing the conditions of employment and training details of the apprentice.

The Contract of Employment is normally for a minimum of 30 hours, although they can work more hours in line with working time regulations. Where the individual’s circumstances or the particular nature of employment in a given sector make this impossible, then an absolute minimum of 16 hours must be met. In such cases the duration of the Apprenticeship must be extended.

Employers must comply with National Minimum Wage legislation. The current National Minimum Wage for apprentices is £3.30 an hour and applies to those apprentices who are under 19 or those that are aged 19 and over but in the first year of their Apprenticeship.

Older apprentices must be paid at least the National Minimum Wage for their age which is currently £5.30 for 18-20 year olds and £6.70 for 21 and over. Many employers pay more. The apprentice must be paid for the time they are in formal training. This is typically the equivalent of one day a week, but will vary depending on the programme and duration of the Apprenticeships.

Apprentices under 21 already pay no National Insurance and from April 2016 the exemption will apply to all apprentices.

As well as direct costs, consideration should be given to the amount of time required to mentor an apprentice, and which members of staff will undertake this role, as it is expected that the employer will support and develop their apprentice to prepare them for full-time employment upon completion of their training.

Apprenticeship Training Agencies

If a business is unable or unsure about employing an apprentice directly but wants the benefit of an apprentice, an Apprenticeship Training Agency (ATA) may be an alternative. The ATA works like a regular employment agency, employing the apprentice and charging them out to the business on an hourly rate. A fee will be charged to cover the expenses of the ATA. Consult the List of Approved ATAs.

What is a Traineeship?

Traineeships are short education and training programmes with work experience, delivered by Training Providers. They are funded by the Government and often lead on to an Apprenticeship. Visit our Traineeships page for details. 


What’s new?

The Apprenticeship programme is going through a period of change...

Trailblazer Apprenticeships
Reforms to the Apprenticeship system are taking place that are seeing ‘Frameworks’ replaced by ‘Standards’ as well as changes to the way Apprenticeships are funded. This work is being driven by employer groups (over 1,000 employers known as Trailblazers are involved) with the aim of making Apprenticeships more tailored to the needs of business. As the new Standards are developed and approved, they will gradually replace the existing Frameworks.

Apprenticeship Levy
Going forwards, large employers will be required to pay a payroll tax. If they take on apprentices, the money they have been taxed will, effectively, be reimbursed. Details are still being developed (as of Oct 2015).

More information

If you can’t find the information you need on our website, please complete our contact form and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible to try and answer your query or alternatively call us on 01773 744081.