A few weeks ago whilst fixing odds and sorts around the house, Richard our trusted electrician who is probably in his late sixties, muttered something that I found quite interesting. Out of the blue, I heard him say, “that is something that I did over 40 years ago.” Incidentally his eye had caught a question written on the flip chart in the corner of our kitchen-diner which also happens to be my home office. The flip chart, a relic from a workshop I had held a few days earlier, had the words “What is an Apprenticeship Scheme?” emblazoned in large letters across the front sheet. Feeling quite smug, Richard had answered the question with a look that said, “what a silly question, that’s obvious isn’t it?”
His response is typical of what many people consider an apprenticeship scheme to be. In their mind's eye, the words ‘apprentice’ or ‘apprenticeship’ conjure up the image of a plumber, electrician, hairdresser or similar. Although this is not incorrect, it presents a very narrow view which does not account for newer schemes introduced in recent years.
In reality, there are now a lot more opportunities available today in a wide range of fields AND the apprenticeship scheme offerings are still growing. Unfortunately this is widely unknown to a lot of people. Even more obscure is the fact that some of the programmes now go up to degree apprenticeships.
In one of my previous blogs Degree Apprenticeships Uncovered you will find the example of a young person that I know quite well, who secured an enviable degree apprenticeship job at a top investment bank in September.
One of the drivers of the growth in apprenticeship schemes is the government’s target to see at least 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020. A compulsory Apprenticeship Levy was therefore introduced in April 2017 for all employers with a wage bill in excess of £3m. This and other changes are creating momentum in the apprenticeships ecosystem and the number of top employers offering apprenticeship schemes is on the increase.
A student who ignores changes, risks being left behind.
A degree apprenticeship scheme presents additional choice and going down this route can be a viable alternative to full-time university education. If you choose to go for one of these, not only you will get a degree at the end, you will have no tuition fee debt and you will gain a lot of relevant work experience.
Read this other previous blog to understand the broad range of apprenticeships available.
If you are a parent or student who has attended any of our events or followed this blog page for a while, you probably know that one of my favourite mantras is applied knowledge is power. And the same principle applies when it comes to apprenticeship schemes. One of the ways to know more about them is to attend careers fairs where employers showcase what they have to offer. You will need to be deliberate and intentional when you attend these apprenticeship scheme fairs. Try to get as much information as possible, as this will help you make an informed judgement. Therefore do your research and have a good set of questions ready for the employers.
Trust me, you will come away with much more than the average attendee if you are well prepared. I recently went to an event hosted by All About School Leavers with my friend and her daughters and it included a boot camp where we explored insightful questions that you could ask a prospective employer about their apprenticeship schemes. I’ve outlined 12 of the questions below and added some thoughts about the relevance of each question.
1. What standard or framework is the apprenticeship scheme following?
All apprenticeships need to follow a standard or framework. It spells out the skills required, what will be learnt, duration, entry requirements etc. Knowing the standard will help you know if the role is for you and it will be a good guide for which of your strengths to highlight more during the selection process. Click here to see the breadth of available standards.
2. What qualification(s) will I receive?
If you have read Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you will recall that the second habit is to “Begin With the End in Mind”. Therefore find out what the end game of the particular apprenticeship scheme is before you take a decision and consider whether or not it is aligned with your goals. The question about the qualification(s) you will receive is central to this and it is one you cannot be vague about.
3. How is off-the-job the training provided?
Circa 20% of the time spent during an apprenticeship scheme is on off-the-job training however there is a variety of ways in which the training is provided. To be mentally prepared, it would make sense to find out what is on offer. You can then assess whether or not it suits your learning style and if you will need to change anything in your lifestyle to make the process work for you. With some degree apprenticeships, trainees attend university on an on-going basis such as one day each week whilst some others provide block training for example one week of training every six weeks.
4. Which training provider have you partnered with?
For the off-the-job training element of the programme, most employers offering an apprenticeship scheme will partner with an external training provider. This can include universities, further education colleges, private training companies amongst others. Those offering degree apprenticeships for example will have a university as the provider. In such a situation you will do well to know which university will be awarding the degree at the end of the programme. Increasingly the range of universities partnering with employers on these schemes is widening and includes Russell Group Universities too. You however need to conduct your research to know who’s offering what.
5. What is the training provider’s rating?
This is an important question to ask as any provider who delivers apprenticeship training has to be on the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (RoATP) and will be assessed / rated by Ofsted. Additionally for a degree apprenticeship you can check university league tables for the ranking of the degree that you will be awarded.
6. How much will I be paid?
Just like any other adult, you be covering your living expenses during your apprenticeship. Therefore it is sensible to find out whether or not the salary being offered will be sufficient before you make a commitment. This is even more pertinent where the apprenticeship scheme involves you relocating to a different town or city and you do not have the luxury of free accommodation under your parents' roof. You should also ask when and how often the salary will be reviewed.
7. What can I expect to earn when I complete the programme?
Still on the salary topic, it is important for you to know how much you could potentially be earning at the end of your apprenticeship programme as it will help you make an informed judgement about the returns on the time and effort you will be investing over the next few years and whether or not it is worth your while.
8. What are the application timelines?
Unlike your UCAS application that has a transparent universal timetable, each employer runs their own programme independently. Generally vacancies are advertised between September and March for a start date the following September but there will be variations from this pattern and each scheme has its own specific opening and closing dates.
9. Do you recruit on a rolling basis or wait till the end?
Check whether or not the employer waits till the application closing deadline before the selection process starts. It is important to know that some employers consider applications on a rolling basis. This means that the employer will consider each application as it is received. The process would then close once a sufficient number of suitable candidates have been identified, even if it is before the advertised deadline.
10. How many apprentices are there in the scheme?
Leaving school to go straight into a large organisation is a very different experience from going to university and it can be daunting for a young person. Knowing that there is a cohort of other apprentices within the organisation who are either joining at the same time or who have joined just a few years before can be reassuring. This is even more so where the employer has a robust support system that includes mentors and buddies who are senior apprentices or those who have recently completed the apprenticeship scheme.
11. What can I expect during the selection stage?
The selection process varies from one employer to the other. You are likely to be a stronger candidate if you know in advance what the expectations are and take active steps to prepare. For example if there will be some online numeracy and/or verbal reasoning tests, you can get a lot of online practice papers before the actual one. Click here to discover one of the places where you can find practice tests.
12. How can I make my application stand out?
Apprentices who are doing well on the scheme tend to be good ambassadors for their apprenticeship scheme and the company as a whole. For this reason, such apprentices often feature at the careers fairs and they provide a good source of information to the savvy student. Due to the recency of joining the organisation, such ambassadors are likely to clearly recall what worked well during the selection phase and offer insightful tips.
The questions listed above are not the only ones to ask rather they provide a good starting point for further exploration when speaking to an employer about their apprenticeship schemes. Should you want to know more about apprenticeships and what you can do to position yourself for success, contact us to find out how we can support you.
- Getting an apprenticeship scheme role is not the easy way out. The best ones are very competitive, you still need good grades and need to be prepared.
- Summer schools and pathways programmes can help young people get a better glimpse of the world of work from an early stage.
- Non-academic experiences build confidence and provide a wealth of skills that prepare you for the best apprenticeship schemes.
We run Soft Skills Workshops for students in Years 10-13 during the February and October half-term breaks to help position our young people for the best opportunities. You can find out more here.