Apprenticeships explained

What is an apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship is a real job with training. You earn while you learn, working towards recognised qualifications and developing practical skills.

Apprenticeships are available in a wide range of industries, from Animal Care to Engineering.

Apprenticeship levels

There are three main levels of apprenticeship:

  • Intermediate Level Apprenticeships (level 2)
  • Advanced Level Apprenticeships (level 3)
  • Higher Apprenticeships (level  4)

Training and qualifications

You will spend most of your time in work, training on the job.  The rest of your time will be spent at a local college or specialist training provider, either on day release or studying  for a number of days in a block.

What do levels mean?All recognised qualifications have been given a level, to try and make it easier to compare one to another.The range starts at entry level, then progresses from level one, through to level eight.As a guide:level one includes GCSEs grades D-G, and NVQs level 1;

level two include GCSEs grades A*-C and NVQs level 2;

level three includes AS/A-levels and NVQs level 3.

For further details visit OFQUAL, the qualifications regulator.

All apprenticeships involve study for work-based learning qualifications, including:

  • A competencies qualification which shows you have the ability to perform a set skill, trade or occupation.  This is either at level  2, 3 or 4.
  • A technical knowledge qualification which covers theory and understanding of your chosen industry.  Sometimes this forms a joint qualification with the competencies qualification.
  • Learning key skills (such as team work, problem solving, and communication) or functional Skills (such as Maths and English).


See Understanding vocational qualifications for more details about different options available.

Apprenticeship length

Apprenticeships take between one and four years to complete, depending on the level and type of apprenticeship.

Entry requirements

Entry requirements vary depending on the apprenticeship type and industry but you must be 16 years or over and not currently in full-time education.

Find out more

Visit The National Apprenticeship Service (England only) or Careers Development ScotlandCareers Wales or Apprenticeships Northern Irelanddepending on where you live.

Watch apprentices’ icould video stories:

Caroline Woodall, Customer Support Apprentice, BT.

Dan Metcalfe, Glasing Apprentice, Auto Windscreens.

Andrew Humphrey, Assembly Manager (former apprentice), URT Group.

To see how studying certain subjects can lead to different careers, search icould videos by subject, or if you’ve hit a stumbling block, try searching icould videos by life decision for inspiration.