The Ultimate Guide to Apprenticeships
Apprenticeships were a comprehensive education which taught young people how to be part of a workforce. They instilled the values of excellence and quality in the workplace and served British industry well throughout the years.
I'm very encouraged to see the current revival and to see Apprenticeships take their rightful place as a valid education and career choice that can lead to better things.
How do people feel about apprenticeships today? The government has recently put a lot of money on promoting apprenticeship initiatives. Given this - plus current economic woes and increasing University tuition fees - are apprenticeships becoming an increasingly attractive career path option?
Types of Companies Investing in Apprentices
Some of the most exciting and forward-thinking companies in the world have learning programmes. It can even be easier to get your foot in the door with a major company as an enthusiastic apprentice than four years later as a graduate! Why? Because by the time graduates are knocking on their doors, many former apprentices will have had several years of experience in which to learn and get ahead.
The British Army had one of the most extensive and trusted apprenticeship schemes with about 75% of new soldiers taking part and over 5,500 completing their apprenticeship training each year.
What are the benefits of an apprenticeship?
Of the many advantages of an apprenticeship, the most valuable (and attractive to employers) is a professional experience.
An apprentice has many distinct advantages over interns and volunteers:
- They are directly exposed to the business community that they desire to make their career in as an insider.
- They can form close personal relationships with industry professionals, witness the inner workings of the business, and make valuable contacts.
- No less important - an apprenticeship means direct, hands-on training. Apprentices learn by seeing and by doing.
- They inevitably make mistakes and learn from them.
- They get a first-hand feel for the nature of the work as well as a chance to hone the skills and tricks needed to become experts.
The other distinct advantage to apprenticeships is that they are paid. Just like permanent job positions, the government sets a minimum wage for anyone taking part in apprenticeships.
For 2012, this rate has been set at £2.65 per hour. Companies also commonly offer unpaid placements or work experience, so if you're looking to earn while you learn to make sure you clarify this before you start.
Many companies do see an apprenticeship as an investment. If you're offered an apprenticeship position, you're being offered the opportunity to a long-term career.
Apprenticeships can also be a route to attaining particular technical certificates, such as a BTEC or City & Guilds Progression Award. While enjoying the benefits of paid training, an apprentice can progress through the courses that will help advance his or her professional status and qualify for specialised knowledge-based certifications such as the HNC, the HND, foundation degrees, or other professional qualifications like the National Vocational Qualiﬁcation (NVQ).
In many circumstances, an apprentice can mostly be paid to progress their way through Level 2, Level 3, Level 4, and Level 5 of the NVQ.
Kimberley Palmer works in Body Modification, learning the art of tattoos and piercings. Her work placement is unpaid but allows her to learn technical skills.
Other advantages vary among employers but can include things like flexible working hours, part-time schedules, and the chance to work in one’s chosen field with little or no previous education or experience. Often, apprenticeships will even entitle workers to vacations and paid holidays.
Types of Apprenticeships
While there are a variety of apprenticeships available throughout different job sectors, apprenticeships typically involve learning a trade skill.
The majority of these positions can be found in the manual labour, manufacturing, and creative industries - professions which involve working with one’s hands or require extensive technical knowledge for working with complicated machinery.
Francis Tophill is an Apprentice Gardner from Marks & Spencer's. Her physical labour apprenticeship offers flexible hours and the additional advantage of both academic and practical learning.
To stimulate job growth and to provide a reasonable alternative for those unable to afford a university education, many local governments throughout the UK offer resources for connecting inexperienced workers with prospective employers through apprenticeship programs.
A quick visit to your city council’s web page is likely to provide some good opportunities, so be sure to look into the government-sponsored options in your area
What are the requirements for becoming an Apprentice?
The beauty of apprenticeships is that they often require very little in the way of prerequisites.
Basic nationwide working requirements, such as being of legal working age, are usually all that's needed.
Otherwise, the chances are that you'll be competing with others in a similar position to your own, and so anything you can do to improve your application will be helpful, this means showing up for your interview promptly and in a suitable fashion, with a strong CV - fully prepared to show your best professional qualities to prospective employers.
Of course, this isn't to say that some apprenticeships––especially those which are highly competitive––don’t require advanced degrees, special certifications, or working experience, but these positions are far from the norm.
What type of person does an apprenticeship suit?
There's no ideal person exclusively suited for apprentice work. However, there are some personality traits which might make you a good fit for an apprenticeship. So if you're still trying to decide whether or not an apprenticeship is a good fit for you, consider if you have any of these qualities:
- Aged 16-24, and still attempting to determine which industry best suits your career goals.
- Interested in developing a particular skill set or technical knowledge.
- A keen learner, eager for self-improvement.
- A young person looking to adapt to workplace disciplines and routines.
- Passionate about creating and/or working with one’s hands.
David Way, Chief Executive, National Apprenticeship Service
“Encouraging more people to take up quality Apprenticeships is vital in equipping young people with the skills they need for the future – and the skills that Britain needs to grow.
“Apprenticeships have always been financially rewarding to both employers and students alike. In this new era for Apprenticeships, we are not only committed to ensuring the students earn while they learn, but that new funding and incentives are available to employers willing to take on Apprentices.”
If you don’t particularly like sitting in classrooms, if you like getting out there, getting stuck in and being more hands on, then it’s a good pathway for you to think about.
Making the Apprenticeship application
First things first: if you want to get an apprenticeship, you'll have to start by doing some active research.
Spend some time thinking about what industry you ought to work in and narrow down your options.
Then, do some investigation into the opportunities available in your area.
Look into using local government job placement resources, have a look at the classified listings, and contact some of the businesses you are familiar with nearby to inquire about future apprenticeship programs.
Once you manage to locate a few promising opportunities, you'll need to find out about their specific employment requirements, download an application, contact them by phone, or––even better––pay a visit to the office to chat with someone there about the opening.
Here are some online references that you may find useful in setting you on the right path to the perfect apprenticeship:
Using Social Media to find an Apprenticeship
Employers are keen to have socially aware and proactive apprentices, so fully connected through social media, it can be a great tool for job seekers to connect with prospective employers. Through the web you can find companies in your desired field, follow and learn more about them on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, and connect with them directly to find out about apprenticeship opportunities.
There are many useful resources to be found on Twitter. Headhunters, government labour organisations, large corporations, and job placement agencies all use social media to advertise positions and job vacancies.
Facebook is another great tool for finding information about employers and apprenticeship programs. There are many Facebook groups dedicated to local job placement, and many companies have pages where you can learn about them and the positions they have available. http://www.facebook.com/apprenticeships
LinkedIn––a social media site dedicated entirely to professional networking––is another wonderful way to get information about and make contact with companies who might be offering employment. So even if you're looking for your first job, it's a good idea to set up an account and begin networking with professionals in your area.
Get your online image into shape! Remember that many potential employers check out their applicants online before hiring. So be sure to familiarise yourself with the information floating around out there on the web about you.
Social media can be a great way to make professional connections, but it can also easily dissuade employers from considering your application if you aren’t careful.
Clear your online profiles of unprofessional photos and content before you start reaching out to anyone who you hope might become your employer. Follow the links below for more tips and suggestions for improving your online image:
- Birmingham School of Media Resource: http://socialmediatutorials.co.uk/
Understanding what core skills employers are looking for in an Apprentice
- The ideal apprentice is a quick learner, a good listener, and someone who can efficiently implement the training they receive. Apprenticeships are preparation for future careers, and employers want to hire workers who can develop their skills quickly and steadily improve their productivity over time.
- Employers love problem solvers. Throughout the work day, minor problems always arise, and companies need employees who can think on their feet to fix or circumvent the obstacles that inevitably come up, without always having to rely on others for help.
- Strong people skills are also a must have, and not only in jobs that involve customer service. In any profession, it's always important to work well alongside co-workers and bosses toward the company’s mutual goals.
- Reliability is essential. Employers need their apprentices to show up on time, work hard, focus on their jobs, and not miss work unnecessarily.
Get your CV sorted
Long before the interview, your CV is the first glimpse a prospective employer gets of you. So it's critical that you put together a clean, professional document which highlights your strengths.
Remember: when you are applying for an apprenticeship, don’t be overly bashful about a scanty CV; there is no need to try to fill it with unnecessary fluff or exaggeration.
Employers won’t be expecting you to have years of experience, and you will only be hurting your professional image if you load up your CV with trivialities or falsehoods.
Write a kick-ass cover letter
When an employer is looking to hire, the will often be left with a large stack of similar-looking CVs to sort through. Needless to say, it goes a long way if you can make yours stand out from the pile.
A sharp, succinct, and well-written cover letter is an excellent way to make an impression that will set your application apart from the rest.
Help with your Apprenticeship Interview
It is an old cliché that you only get one chance to make a first impression, but nowhere does this saying hold more truth than in a job interview.
In every interview you attend, it is imperative that you present yourself in the best light possible.
Employers see many candidates and spend only a short time with each of them. So don’t underestimate the importance of the little things: dressing sharply, speaking clearly, making eye contact, right down to giving a firm handshake.
Above all, you want to project confidence and intelligence - qualities that can be communicated in subtle ways.
It's also incredibly important to prepare ahead of time for your interview. Practice your responses to typical interview questions, be ready to highlight your strengths, and memorise the contents of your CV thoroughly beforehand.
Typical interview questions can be easily found online, and it is a good idea to familiarise yourself with some of these in advance. By practising you can be sure of being prompt and confident with your responses, and you won't have to risk becoming flustered or nervous when asked those tricky questions, like ‘What is your worst quality?’
If you've made it from the stack of CVs on the desk into the short list of interviewees, now's the time to ensure that your interview stands out as much as your resume did. Here are a few more great tips for guaranteeing that it does:
- Practice, practice, practice: The more practice questions you review beforehand, the more times you rehearse in front of the mirror, and the more thought you give to your prepared responses, the better impression you will make
- Ask questions: Show that you're interested in the company and the working environment, and get to know the interviewer. A successful interview should be a conversation, not an inquisition.
- Research the company ahead of time: This will help you understand what they are looking for in an ideal candidate and will show them that you are proactive about becoming a part of their company.
- Don’t ramble: keep your answers relevant and to the point.
- Project confidence sit up straight in your chair, don’t fidget, and speak clearly and directly.
- Be sure to send a follow-up email thanking your potential boss for the opportunity and saying that it was nice to meet them.
What should parents know about Apprenticeships?
There are many things that parents should be aware of if their children are working in apprenticeship positions for the first time. Because they lack experience and are eager to learn, apprentices are sometimes in a vulnerable position with regards to employment. But there are some natural ways to ensure that your child’s first working experience is a positive one.
First, do some research into the company offering the position. Are they legitimate?
Next, find out about pay. In some cases, businesses will illegally offer unpaid apprenticeships to exploit the free labour. Make sure that the position is properly recompensed, and if it is unpaid, make sure that the justification is a reasonable and defensible one.
Workplace safety should also be a concern for certain types of apprenticeships. Apprentices are employees, and as such, they are entitled to becoming unionised and to working under a legitimate contract.
However, as they still lack the necessary experience, there are certain trade aspects that they should not be asked to perform until they become properly certified, such as most types of electrical maintenance. As long as safety and adequate compensation are guaranteed, apprenticeships are an invaluable way for your child to get their foot in the door and to start down the path to a long, enriching career.