Apprenticeships are not only for young people, but can be applied for by career changers, those that are mid-career and beyond. The range of careers that can be entered through an apprenticeship have changed in recent times; imagine gaining experience, getting paid, and completing a qualification in roles such as accounting, marketing, health professions, engineering, law and HR. There are hundreds of options waiting for you!
Apprenticeships do not have age limits on them. Indeed, to have age limits would be counted as discriminatory. It is true, for those who are not school leavers, that if you take up an apprenticeship where there are several people being taken on at the same time, you may find that your cohort is younger than you. This is something to take into consideration, however it can be quite rejuvenating to work with a younger crowd. They should certainly appreciate all the life experience you have.
This article looks at apprenticeships and demonstrates that they are highly appropriate for experienced hires.
Recent growth in apprenticeships
Apprenticeships have been around for a very long time. However, it is worth noting that it was in 2017 that the UK government brought in the apprenticeship levy. Apprenticeships have been reformed since 2013 and the levy works to encourage employers to consider setting them up. The fact the levy has been brought in has been key to the increase in the numbers of apprenticeships offered. Below I briefly explain how this has worked.
Since April 2017, employers with a pay bill more than £3 million are subject to the national apprenticeship levy. This levy is 0.5% of their pay bill. Therefore, it is dictated by government policy that the funds generated by the levy must be spent on apprenticeship training costs. Money from the levy that is not used is placed in a ‘national pot’ and employers with a pay bill that is less than £3 million can apply to use it to offer their own apprenticeships.
Therefore, large employers are incentivised to use this money for training their staff, as otherwise it is simply lost to them. Smaller employers have access to this pot of money and therefore are also incentivised to use it to set up apprenticeships.
Since 2013 there has been a great deal of work to improve the quality of apprenticeships by creating apprenticeship standards. These show, by job role, what work and learning an apprentice will be carrying out, as well as the skills required of them. The standards can be found on the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education’s website.
There are several levels of apprenticeship. These have been tied to the levels of education that the government uses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. These levels are described on the GOV.UK website. For Scotland see the SQA website.
Apprenticeships in England are advertised on the GOV.UK apprenticeships portal. For the rest of the UK see:
- Scotland – see apprenticeships Scotland
- Wales – see Careers Wales
- Northern Ireland – see NI Direct: apprenticeships
Apprenticeship vacancies are also advertised on employer websites, so make sure you do your research into employers who offer apprenticeships in your sector of interest.
Apprenticeship and traineeship levels in England are as follows:
- Level 1 – Traineeships and study programmes – equivalent to GCSE - grades 3, 2, 1 or grades D, E, F, G.
- Level 2 – Intermediate apprenticeship – equivalent to 5 GCSE passes at grades A*- C or 9-4
- Level 3 – Advanced apprenticeship – equivalent to 2 A level passes
- Levels 4 and 5 – Higher apprenticeship - equivalent to a foundation degree and above
- Levels 6 and 7 – Degree apprenticeship - equivalent to a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree.
Traineeships are not specifically a type of apprenticeship, but on the level system, they count as level 1. I include them, as they may be of interest to those that are not school leavers. These are aimed at those who are looking for some knowledge of their preferred sector and some hands-on experience. This level can take 4-12 months and is not paid. Training is free of charge and it is possible to claim expenses. Later, I will talk about some examples of people, older than school leavers, taking on apprenticeships and one of these has taken on a traineeship. You can find traineeships in England on the GOV.UK website.
Advice for those considering taking on an apprenticeship
During the rest of this article, I give advice for those who are not school leavers but who might want to take on an apprenticeship.
Make a career change
Taking on an apprenticeship as a career changer may mean that you earn less whilst you are retraining; apprenticeships do generally have lower salaries. However, if you are working towards a qualification as part of your apprenticeship, and this is being paid for by your employer, this will be saving you course fees.
If the alternative is taking time off work to gain a qualification, say if you decide to take on a degree course, if you are getting the cost of the course paid and you are still earning money and learning very practical skills, then this is surely worth it!
Although the salary as an apprentice may be quite low, there are many examples where, once you have finished your apprenticeship, you can go onto highly-paid professional roles. For example, there are apprenticeships in law and engineering. There is even a proposed level 7 apprenticeship standard (due to come in from September 2023) for becoming a doctor in the NHS.
If you know which industry you would like to career change into, then consider any professional contacts you have who might provide you with an opportunity to take on an apprenticeship, or who might be in the know about upcoming apprenticeship vacancies. Networking, and making it clear on platforms such as LinkedIn, that you are interested in a new career can be a way of signposting to others that you are available and keen to explore opportunities.
Degree apprenticeships versus full-time university courses
Degree apprenticeships are a great opportunity, but as such can be very competitive to get into. If you already have a degree, but want to change careers, then it is worth noting that you are still eligible to take up a degree apprenticeship. Below are some of the pros and cons if you were to choose a degree apprenticeship over a full-time university degree.
- You will attend university, but avoid the expensive fees, as your employer will cover these. With tuition fees standing at more than £9000 a year at most UK universities, and living costs on top of that, it is certainly worth exploring.
- The work experience that you will do, at the same time as studying, will set you apart from those that are studying full-time and who will only have the opportunity to complete short internships or placement experiences during their studies.
- You will have the opportunity to socialise and network within work and it’s an opportunity to build professional relationships which might secure you employment on the completion of your apprenticeship.
- It takes hard work and dedication to work and study at the same time. Additionally, you may be juggling other responsibilities, such as childcare or caring for a family member, so speak to your apprenticeship provider and employer about additional support you could receive.
- As you will be working and studying full-time, you may feel you are missing out on the opportunities for socialising at university. From societies, to thriving cultural and social scenes, these are part and parcel of the experience of studying a degree full-time.
- You might want to study a subject that is not tied to an apprenticeship, for example, history or languages.
- The apprenticeship route will usually take longer. You will not normally graduate until a year (or sometimes two) after the length of a standard full-time degree.
Look out for opportunities with your current employer
Due to the inbuilt incentive for employers to use the apprenticeship levy, there may be the chance to complete an apprenticeship through your current employer. For example, one of the opportunities I have come across at the university where I work is to join a coaching apprenticeship programme. With this opportunity, employees can sign up for training within work time to become an internal coach as an extra role alongside their usual job.
There may also be apprenticeship opportunities to take on leadership roles. There are, for example in the health sector, opportunities to take on an advanced practice role if you are a nurse or have a clinical role, such as a physiotherapist. You complete a postgraduate qualification alongside your usual working week. This will be quite intense and involve extra study in the evenings and at weekends.
If you have an idea about some training that you would like, then you could even discuss this with your employer. It could be possible, as long as there is an apprenticeship standard for that job role and it encompasses a new skill that enables you to improve your competencies at completing your role. If your employer is willing to set this up, this could set you on the path of starting your new apprenticeship role.
Experienced hires who have taken up apprenticeships or traineeships
My first example is a woman in her 40s who last year, took up a traineeship in market gardening. She was in a position to work part-time alongside the traineeship and did not need to earn a high salary. This was due to the fact she was living with and caring for an elderly parent. She has ambitious plans to start a market gardening business, so it was just the sort of training and experience that she needed.
Applying for an apprenticeship may work for people who can top up on tax credits, too. A real-life example, from someone I helped in my coaching practice recently, is a single mother in her 40s. She was self-employed and was thinking of applying for a level 3 apprenticeship role. Whilst her daughter was still at school, she had the comfort blanket of not having to be in a highly-paid job, because of this tax credit top-up. She was thinking of applying for an accountancy apprenticeship, as this was something she knew she enjoyed doing.
A final example, the University I work for, CU London (Coventry University Group), runs policing apprenticeships which are taken by many people that are career changers.
Advice if you are considering an apprenticeship
Spend some time researching employers that offer apprenticeships. Look into the values of the organisation or company that is offering the apprenticeship. It is also useful if you can try to talk to someone that works there. This will help you determine that the organisation is the right fit for you. It is also important to build your CV and transferable skills ahead of making an application.
Remember, although many apprenticeship vacancies may appear to be targeting those that have recently finished secondary school, they are also open to mature candidates too, as well as graduates (i.e. degree apprenticeships).
There are many apprenticeships on offer for experienced hires. If you are looking to retrain, they could be the ideal route for you to earn, whilst you learn, gain experience and qualifications.
Lisa is a registered careers practitioner with the CDI. She has worked as a careers consultant in the NHS and the university sector. She has also trained in Leadership Coaching and is a Certified Associate member of APECS (the Association of Professional Executive Coaches and Supervisors).