Apprenticeships: The Questions You Should Be Asking
Apprenticeships are a mixed bag. Some are great ways to break into an industry for hands-on experience and valuable training. Others are a sham that will leave you with little in the bank and few measurable skills.
There are a lot of things to consider if you are thinking of starting an apprenticeship.
Will you be paid properly?
The minimum you can be paid in your first year as an apprentice ranges from £3.50 up to the National Minimum Wage, depending on your age. It’s worth calculating what you’re paid on a regular basis to ensure you are getting what you are legally entitled to. Remember that your wages are subsidised and usually funded entirely by the government.
It’s worth speaking with your employer after you’ve completed your first year and asking for a raise. Bear in mind that if they are paying the minimum they are usually recouping all of this cost from the government. You are essentially free labour. If you’re proving your worth as an employee, many employers will want to reward this to ensure you stay at the company.
If you feel you aren’t being paid or treated fairly, your training provider (usually separate to the company you have an apprenticeship with) will be able to help.
What do you get at the end of it?
Apprenticeships are traditionally centred on practical semi-skilled or skilled industries. These include joinery, construction, plumbing, engineering, metalworking, upholstering and other hands-on trades. This is because in these trades, the best way to learn is to actually do the job under supervision.
You could sit in a classroom for 5 years learning about how to tile a roof, but you’ll most likely have little idea of what to do if you haven’t had practical experience and training. For this reason, most of these apprenticeships only have a few hours or days a month studying at a desk.
Recently, following a drive by the government to boost apprenticeships in the UK, a whole host of new qualifications can be obtained with an apprenticeship. This has extended to the likes of cleaning, mail services, deliveries and hospitality (generally bartending or kitchen work). There are two problems with this.
The first is that the qualification you receive at the end of training may not be worth the hours spent in a workplace and low apprenticeship wage. Realistically, a few years of experience working in a bar is little improved with a hospitality apprenticeship qualification.
The second issue is that many businesses launch apprenticeship schemes simply to get free labour. Once the apprenticeship is finished they let the employee go. For these reasons, you need to carefully consider the reputation of the company and the value of the qualification you want to gain from the apprenticeship.
Can you pursue a career at your company?
You need to consider what your plans and options are after your training ends. Is the company big enough to allow you to progress to a senior level? Does your employer seem invested in you pursuing a career with the company? It would be helpful to find out if any current employees went through the same scheme and whether or not they would recommend it.
Try to find out the prospects of apprentices in similar companies or professions. The more knowledgeable you are about a potential apprenticeship, the less chance you will run into issues or fall for what can often be little more than a scam.
Is it the right route?
One of the classic questions for school leavers is whether to pursue an apprenticeship or go to university. In some cases the answer is obvious, assuming you know what you want to do. Other cases are less clear.
Take, for example, engineering. Engineering apprentices benefit from hands-on, practical workplace experience. However, they may not have had the ability to choose a specialisation or develop extensive theoretical knowledge that their graduate counterparts may have.
Consider not only whether an apprenticeship qualification is worth pursuing (questionable in many cases of unskilled work), but also whether it’s a better route than university.
Is it worth your time?
Being an apprentice means dedicating up to 40 hours a week, most of which consist of actual work rather than training. Training for your qualification often involves homework that you complete in your own time. Consider whether this massive time dedication is worth what you hope to gain at the end of it.
Despite these potential pitfalls that apprenticeships can bring, choosing this route towards qualifying in a trade or profession has major strengths, if you keep your wits about you. These include work experience, income, a qualification and a likely employer after completion. It can be a great way to start your career in a way that gently introduces you from education into employment by providing you with both work and a training framework.
Inspiring Interns is a graduate recruitment agency which specialises in sourcing candidates for marketing internship roles and giving out graduate careers advice. To browse graduate jobs and graduate jobs Manchester, visit their website.