In the UK, there’s a common misconception that apprenticeships are only for young people who are looking to get their start in the world of work.
However, in most cases, there’s no upper age limit for apprenticeship positions – and they can be a great way for older adults to shift into a new career. So as long as you live in the UK, and you’re not in full-time education, you can apply for one today!
Below, we’ll delve into what an apprenticeship is, why it’s worth considering, and how to apply…
What is an apprenticeship?
Put simply, an apprenticeship is a training scheme offered by an employer and funded by the government that combines employment with learning. It can help people enter into a new career without taking time out of paid work to study for a conventional academic qualification – such as A-levels or a degree.
What sets apprenticeships apart from other training schemes is that you get paid for the work you do and time spent studying. As an apprentice, you’ll even receive holiday pay.
The study part of your apprenticeship will be provided by a college, university, or another type of provider – and this can take place virtually or in person, depending on the apprenticeship. This will prepare you for a formal assessment, which will lead to a nationally-recognised qualification.
Some apprenticeships will also result in a further employment opportunity at the company you’ve been training with – although, this isn’t a given.
What can I learn as an apprentice?
Another common misconception that’s widely held in the UK is that people can only learn trades (such as plumbing and carpentry) through apprenticeships. While these are excellent choices for those looking to make a career change, apprenticeships are actually offered by employers in a whole range of industries.
These industries can include everything from care services, catering, and creative design to engineering, education, and environmental industries. Head over to apprentices.gov.uk to discover all the sectors that offer apprentice opportunities.
What are the benefits of an apprenticeship?
There are lots of reasons to consider an apprenticeship. The most obvious ones are that it can allow you to acquire new skills, gain qualifications, and get your foot in the door of a new career. But there are plenty of other key benefits…
- There are no costs – Traditional learning pathways, like degrees, can be very expensive. One of the best things about apprenticeships is that they’re free!
- Get paid while you learn – Not only will you be able to preserve your savings or take out a student loan to fund your learning, you’ll be actively earning money!
- On-the-job learning – If you don’t want to be stuck in a classroom or spend too much time doing academic work to earn your qualification, an apprenticeship might be for you. This is because it offers hands-on, practical learning.
- Get a taste for your future working environment – Unlike studying for a degree, apprenticeships allow you to experience the environment you’ll be working in. This can help you to make sure that it’s the career for you.
- Get industry-applicable skills – Some people would argue that because you’re learning on the job, the skills that you gain will be more applicable to your future career than the ones you might learn in a classroom environment.
- You might be more employable – Research has suggested that employers believe that apprentices are more employable than those with other qualifications. This may be related to the previous point.
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What are some of the drawbacks of an apprenticeship?
While there are plenty of positives to doing an apprenticeship compared to a more conventional learning pathway, there are also a few drawbacks to consider…
- Low salary – While apprenticeship programmes come with a salary, these are usually relatively low. There are lots of providers that offer quite generous salaries to apprentices (this will largely depend on what industry you are apprenticing in). However, some don’t pay much more than minimum wage.
Minimum wage for a first-year apprentice currently sits at £5.28 per hour. However, after your first year, it’ll jump to the national minimum for regular workers, which is £10.42.
This means it’s important to carefully consider the financial implications of doing an apprenticeship before you start applying.
- Limited career choice – While apprenticeships offer access to plenty of different careers, many still require a university degree. So, depending on what industry you want to work in, an apprenticeship may or may not be an option for getting you there.
- Less flexibility later on – Apprenticeships can involve very focused training: meaning much of your time will be spent learning how to perform a certain role in a specific industry.
This means that, unlike a university degree (which can give you an entry point into a broad range of careers), future job opportunities may be narrower. However, this doesn’t have to be a problem, as long as you consider your choice of apprenticeship carefully.
- Not a traditional learning environment – If you’re considering studying at a degree level (a higher or degree apprenticeship), it’s worth bearing in mind that an apprenticeship offers a learning (and lifestyle) experience that’s very different to that of a university.
To make sure that the university route isn’t for you, you may want to do some research about life as a mature student before you commit to an apprenticeship. This personal story from Rest Less member Christine is a good place to start.
What types of apprenticeships are on offer?
When it comes to apprenticeships, no two offerings are the same. As well as being available in a wide range of different industries, apprenticeships can vary in salary, work:study ratio, and duration (anywhere between one-five years).
However, once you’ve chosen which industry you’d like to do your apprenticeship in, your next decision will be what level of apprenticeship you’d like to undertake…
- An intermediate apprenticeship is classified by the government as level 2 and is equivalent to a GCSE education.
- An advanced apprenticeship (level 3) is equivalent to an A-level education.
- A higher apprenticeship (levels 4-7) includes any apprenticeship that offers qualifications equivalent to a foundation degree (first year of university study) or higher.
- A degree apprenticeship (levels 6 and 7) is equivalent to a bachelor’s or master’s degree, depending on the one you choose to take.
The entry requirements for apprenticeship opportunities may vary depending on who’s offering them and how competitive they are. However, a good, general rule of thumb is that you’ll at least need qualifications from the previous level of study.
For example, intermediate apprenticeships don’t require any formal qualifications. However, to secure a higher apprenticeship, you’ll typically need level 2 and 3 qualifications – which are GCSEs and A-levels, or equivalents.
Where can I find apprenticeship opportunities?
If an apprenticeship sounds like something you might be interested in, then the next step is to see what’s on offer. Below, we discuss some of the best places to look for apprenticeships…
Online job boards are an excellent place to search for a wide range of apprentice opportunities. You can use the button below to see the apprenticeships available through our website.
Wherever you live in the UK, you can find apprenticeships by visiting the relevant government websites.
Go directly to employers
While most companies will likely advertise their apprenticeship vacancies on jobs boards, some might not. So it’s worth inquiring directly with companies that you’re interested in to see if they run any apprenticeship programmes – and if there are any slots available.
Even if they don’t have any vacancies available right now, you might gain some information to help you with future applications.
For large companies in particular, it’s worth checking out their websites. More and more employers these days are dedicating space online to information about their apprenticeship opportunities. Take a look at this Barclays page as an example.
If you can’t find anything on their website, you could consider getting in touch with employers via email. You might even want to make a speculative application. Check out this post from Prospects to find out more about speculative applications.
Tips on applying for an apprenticeship…
Once you’ve found an apprenticeship that you like, then it’s time to apply!
Applying for an apprentice opportunity is very similar to applying for a job. It usually involves sending prospective employers a copy of your CV and a tailored cover letter detailing why you’re the best candidate for the role.
However, as apprentice opportunities aim to train people from the ground up, previous work experience isn’t as important as it would be for a regular job application.
Instead, try to focus on hard skills you’ve gained that might be transferable to this new industry (such as proficiency in copywriting or data analysis), as well as soft skills (like critical thinking and problem-solving). Your cover letter is also a good place to highlight your goals for the future, which are another important part of an apprenticeship application.
For more tips on applying for apprenticeships, check out this article from Careerpilot.
If you’re looking to make a career change later in life, we hope that this article has demonstrated that becoming an apprentice is a great option to consider. You can head over to the government’s website to find out more about apprenticeships.
And if you’d like to explore other learning opportunities, why not check out the website for the government’s ‘returnerships’ initiative? This programme encourages over 50s to get back into the workforce or switch careers by offering apprenticeships. It also provides…
- Skills bootcamps – Run in partnership with local employers. These are designed to help people gain skills which are sought-after by employers. The courses last up to six weeks and result in a job interview offer upon completion.
- Sector-based academy programmes (SWAPs) – Learning programmes aimed at those currently claiming either Universal Credit, Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA), or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
These also culminate in a job interview or help with your applications if this is not possible.
Finally, if you’re interested in gaining a higher education qualification, check out the learning section of our website. Here, you’ll find a wide range of content on attending university as an older adult.
To get started, why not have a read of our articles; A guide to becoming a university student in your 50s, 60s, and beyond and 7 tips on how to choose a university as a mature student?