Apprenticeship "myth busting"
Apprenticeships have been around for a while as a tried and tested route into employment for students once they finish full-time education. The appeal of ‘earning and learning’ remains for many students and nowadays there is more focus on this option than ever before. That said, it remains the case that there are a number of popular misconceptions about apprenticeships that prevent many students (and their families and teachers) from considering the benefits of this route and whether it might be right for them. This article seeks to dispel some of the most commonly held myths about apprenticeships to help you gain a clearer understanding of what they involve, how they differ from other educational and training options and their potential long-term benefits.
Apprenticeships are for low academic achievers
It is important to keep in mind that even the lowest level of apprenticeship leads to a Level 2 qualification, i.e. equivalent with Grade 4 or above at GCSE. Also, all apprenticeships require minimum entry requirements at GCSE just as courses at a 6th form, college or university would. These vary, but the vast majority of apprenticeships ask for at least a good standard of English and Maths; Level 3 Advanced Apprenticeships will require at least Grade 4/5 in these subjects whereas A-Levels, Level 3 BTECs or the equivalent are required for entry to Higher or Degree Apprenticeships.
There are two important exceptions to the above which are worth bearing in mind. If you have an Education, Health and Care Plan you can apply for apprenticeships with a minimum of Entry Level 3 in English and Maths in some circumstances. Also, students whose first language is British Sign Language (BSL) can have their BSL qualification considered for entry to an apprenticeship instead of English.
Apprenticeships are only for entry into trades, caring roles or hairdressing
Once it was the case that the majority of apprenticeships were offered in traditional construction trades, manufacturing, caring roles or commercial services such as hairdressing. These all remain valuable occupations and apprenticeships continue to be offered in these areas. Nowadays however there is more variety in the types of apprenticeship being offered than ever before. At the time of writing there are 305 Apprenticeship Standards approved for delivery and 251 more in development, covering jobs as varied as journalism, manufacturing engineering, arboriculture and finance. In some cases it is even possible to enter professions such as law or nursing via the apprenticeship route which were previously only accessible following full-time study at university. This means greater choice and flexibility for young people wanting to enter these professions than ever before.
Apprenticeships are badly paid
This is a commonly held myth and sadly puts off many people from considering apprenticeships who might otherwise thrive by pursuing one. It is true that the pay for apprenticeships can vary, but all apprentices under the age of 19 (and those over the age of 19 in the first year of their apprenticeship) must be paid at least £3.70 per hour. Once an apprentice turns 19 (or is already over 19 and has completed the first year of their apprenticeship), the National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage applies.
Employers can – and do – choose to pay higher wages than this however; for instance, some Degree Apprenticeships offer a starting salary £19,000 per year or more. A few searches on the Government’s Find an Apprenticeship website can help dispel this myth; remember also that what you earn as an apprentice is not what you will be earning forever! Once qualified, your earning potential will usually increase dramatically, so keep this mind if the pay for some apprenticeships initially seems lower than for other jobs.
Apprenticeships do not lead to high quality qualifications
One of the biggest misconceptions about apprenticeships is that they are somehow ‘second best’ when compared to university. As mentioned earlier however, apprenticeships can lead to vocational qualifications at a range of levels, from Level 2 all the way through to Higher Education qualifications (e.g. HNDs, Degrees, Masters Degrees). This means that apprentices can gain a very wide range of qualifications through this route whatever their starting level of academic ability. In addition to this, all learners who achieved less then Level 4 GCSE English and Maths at the end of Year 11 will have the opportunity to continue studying these subjects just as they would if they were attending 6th form or college.
Graduates cannot do apprenticeships
It was once true that university graduates would not receive any funding if they wanted to do an apprenticeship, but this is no longer the case. The only stipulation is that if you are a graduate, the qualification you will be working towards on your apprenticeship must either in the same subject but at a higher level, or in a different subject area from your degree (in which case it can be the same or lower level). This is good news for graduates who want to gain work-based training, gain further vocational qualifications or change career direction. An apprenticeship could also be view as an excellent alternative to doing an internship, as not only are you guaranteed to be paid, you are still gaining vital experience of the workplace. Not only this but there is no age restriction for apprenticeships, so they could offer an excellent option for a career change at a later stage in your life.
Whatever route you choose following your GCSEs or post-16 learning, hopefully this article will have exploded at least some of the myths surrounding apprenticeships and the significant benefits they can offer. To search and apply for apprenticeship vacancies you can use the Government’s Find an Apprenticeship website. Alternatively, you can approach employers directly to ask if they will employ you as an apprentice, but remember you will also need to register with an Approved Training Provider who can guide you through your training.