National Apprenticeship Week: find out more about hiring apprentices

Posted on February 5, 2024
Posted by Marion Kennedy

This week is National Apprenticeship Week, a week that highlights the various benefits and opportunities of an apprenticeship. Apprenticeships can help individuals develop transferable skills that are useful in all aspects of life and the theme of this year’s National Apprentice Week is ‘Skills for Life’. This week is an opportunity for employers and organisations to attract potential candidates and to help individuals develop the skills needed for a rewarding career.

Apprentices can be valuable assets to a business’s growth. This blog explains the process of taking on an apprentice, how apprenticeships work and the obligations employers have towards apprentices.

What is an apprentice?

An apprentice is a staff member aged 16 or over who works for you as an employee and simultaneously studies at a partnered educational establishment, to help them gain specific skills and qualifications in a particular area. Depending on the type, an apprenticeship will usually last between one and five years. You should only consider taking on an apprentice if you have sufficient experience and resources and are prepared to commit to the development of a very junior staff member for an extended period of time.

Why take an apprentice?

Apprenticeships can be a cost-effective way for your business to develop and invest in workplace skills. By taking on a junior staff member and developing their skills and interests from the ground up, you can be more connected with them and instil in them a deep understanding of the workings of the business. This can be more efficient and cost-effective than hiring a fully-qualified employee with that particular skill set. The apprentice may also have greater loyalty to your business if they receive training from you. In addition, there is government funding to help with the costs of training an apprentice. 

How to take on an apprentice

There are different rules regarding apprenticeships in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, which are not covered in this blog. In England, all apprenticeships are arranged through the Government’s apprenticeship service. You will need to sign up for an online apprenticeship account and take the following steps.

1. Choose an apprenticeship standard and a training provider

You must choose an apprenticeship standard approved by the Government. You can find a list of these on the Institute for Apprenticeships’ website. The list describes the occupations and sets out the outcomes that apprentices are expected to achieve under the standard. Each apprenticeship standard has its own funding band, which sets out the maximum amount the Government will provide in funding. After you choose your apprenticeship standard, you must engage a provider to deliver the training required: you can find these on the Government’s website. You can then negotiate the cost of the training with them directly. Although the Government provides certain funding support, you will need to fund the balance of any amount over the maximum funding band.

2. Advertise for an apprentice

Once the above is complete and you know what funding is available to you, your training provider will usually be able to assist in advertising for an apprentice. This will help facilitate and accelerate the process of finding the apprentice who is most suitable for your business.

3. Enter into an apprentice agreement, training plan and a contract of employment

Once you have chosen an apprentice, you must enter into an apprentice agreement with your apprentice and sign a training plan with both the apprentice and the training provider. The training plan should set out your key expectations, roles and responsibilities.

An apprentice agreement is a contract of service for the purposes of employment law, which means that apprentices generally have the same rights as employees. In order to qualify for Government funding, there are certain legal requirements that your apprenticeship agreement must comply with. The agreement must:

  • state that the apprentice works for you for reward under an approved apprenticeship standard;
  • state that the apprentice will receive training to assist them to achieve the approved standard, including the amount of time they are to receive off-the-job training; and
  • specify the practical period of the apprenticeship, which must not usually be for less than 12 months, and whether the work and training will be undertaken on a full or part-time basis.

It is crucial that your apprenticeship agreement meets the strict legal requirements to comply with the government approved scheme to avoid any legal issues that might arise from an apprentice starting a claim against you. Without an apprenticeship agreement it is unlikely that you will be able to dismiss your apprentice before the apprenticeship ends. You may only be able to do so in very limited circumstances. If you wrongfully dismiss an apprentice who does not have a proper apprentice agreement, the apprentice will be able to claim a much higher sum of damages than an apprentice who is on the government-approved scheme.  

You must also sign a contract of employment with the apprentice that contains the details of their employment such as their pay and working hours. For more information about what to include in an employment contract, see Employment contracts.

The rights of an apprentice

Apprentices are treated as employees for the purposes of employment law, which means they have the same legal rights as your employees. This includes the right to be paid the minimum or the national living wage if they are aged 19 or over and have completed at least one year of their apprenticeship. For more guidance on wages for apprentices, see our Q&A. Apprentices are also entitled to annual leave and statutory sick pay. For more information on these, see Dealing with annual leave and Payment during sickness absence.

Apprentices are also entitled to having the same protections as the rest of your employees when you try to end their contracts, including the right not to be unfairly dismissed,  once they have been continuously employed by you for at least two years. 

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