In a nutshell

In simple terms an apprenticeship is a job with training. Completing an apprenticeship is an alternative to university and a good way to support staff to gain recognised qualifications whilst they are learning in the workplace through practical application.

In taking on an apprentice you are making a commitment to that individual to provide them with the support and resources they need to gain the qualification and meet the criteria outlined within the apprenticeship standard through developing competency in the role.

Please note, the information on this is applicable to apprentices in England only. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have specific national schemes which will vary in requirements and terms.

Key steps to managing this issue

1. Understand what an apprenticeship is

An apprenticeship is a job with training. An apprentice will gain recognised qualifications and essential skills whilst working and earning a wage. They will learn their profession in the workplace whilst acquiring knowledge from experts and continuing to study.

As an employer you can pass down the skills and knowledge from your most able workers to your apprentice whilst your apprentice brings shares the latest learning and innovations in their field, combining on-the-job training with time spent in the classroom.

There are three types of apprenticeships: Intermediate, Advanced and Higher.

These equate to the following apprenticeship levels and equivalent educational level:

  • Intermediate Apprenticeship = Level 2 = Equivalent to 5 GCSE passes A* to C
  • Advanced Apprenticeship = Level 3 = Equivalent to 2 A Level passes
  • Higher Apprenticeship = Level 4, 5, 6 & 7 = Equivalent to Foundation degree and above

You can find out more about qualification levels on the Gov.Uk website

An apprentice must fit the initial criteria:

  • Must be 16 years old or older (NB an apprentice can be any age, there is no age limit)
  • Must be living in England
  • Must not be in full-time education.

Apprentices must work towards an approved apprenticeship (as outlined by the Government). Their training must last at least 1 year.

2. Determine your requirement for an apprentice

It is important to consider whether an apprentice would be the right person to fill a role. It is essential to have the correct infrastructure in place to facilitate an apprenticeship.

If it is a new role you are looking to fill with an apprentice, consider whether you will have the support available to make this work. If this is an additional role or a current role being replaced, consider why an apprentice would be the best way to fill the role. Make sure you are clear on your expectations for the role and the person in the role. The key questions to ask when determining whether to take on an apprentice would be:

  • Is there a relevant apprenticeship standard?
  • Can you support an apprentice in the work place with the appropriate level of experience and off the job training?
  • Do you have the infrastructure and support mechanisms to support an apprentice (for example HR policies and procedures, the ability to provide a mentor, an area where the apprentice can study)?

Consider where an apprentice would fit in the structure of the company. What line manager support would they have, and would the line manager have the capacity and capability to manage an apprentice?

Consider what type of training would benefit both the company and the apprentice. The training provided a part of the apprenticeship needs to be relevant to the workplace – the apprentice should have the opportunity to practise what they have learnt. If the apprentice is not gaining training which is relevant to the company there will be no return on investment for the company.

Consider whether you have sufficient resources to support an apprentice. These would be both your people resources and financial resources – time off/expenses/books and materials etc. It is important to ensure that the company premises are suitable for an apprentice to work and learn which may including observing others, personal study and research and potentially meeting with their assessor, that there are adequate facilities to protect health and wellbeing and that all statutory health and safety requirements are met.

Key actions that would need to be taken are as follows:

  • Review the company schedule and allow for time for the apprentice to attend agreed off-the-job training sessions
  • Consider your ability to provide the necessary on-the-job training, resources and facilities, which the apprentice will require to complete their apprenticeship
  • Ensure the employees who will be training the apprentice are performing in their role and have the coaching and mentoring skills needed to support an apprentice.

3. Develop the job description

It is important to ensure you have a clear job description and person/job specification prior to starting to recruit an apprentice. This will ensure you are clear on the skills and requirements for the role and that the apprentice will have clarity once they are in place. It is a good idea to highlight which of the tasks or responsibilities may only be undertaken once the training has been completed if this applicable. The job description will also assist in deciding the appropriate apprentice – both level and programme.

The job description should contain:

  • The duties and responsibilities of the apprentice
  • The training which will be undertaken
  • The qualifications involved
  • Brief information about the company.

The person/job specification should contain:

  • The knowledge and skills required
  • The qualifications involved
  • Qualifications and training which are entry requirements.

4. Determine the level of apprenticeship you can offer

This will depend on the job the apprentice is going to do and the career path that job may lead to. The level of the apprenticeship needs to be commensurate with the responsibilities of the role so that they not only gain the appropriate level of off the job training but that the experience they gain on the job and opportunity to use their learning is matched. The level of the apprenticeship needs to be appropriate to the role they will be taking on. For example, a Level 3 Team Leader apprenticeship will not be applicable to a role where there are no supervisory responsibilities.

5. Check if you're eligible for a grant or funding

If you are have an annual pay bill of more than £3 million you will have to pay the apprenticeship levy. If you are not a levy payer you may be entitled to a grant for taking on an apprentice aged between 16 and 24 years old. In addition, you may be eligible to recover part of the apprenticeship course costs. This will depend on the size of your company and the age of the apprentice you take on. You can find out more on the Government website.

6. Make sure you have the right policies in place and understand your obligations

There are a range of policies and procedures that are required to be in place if you are planning to take on an apprentice. These are not specific to taking on an apprenticeship and should be in place for all employees, however, it is important to be aware that the training provider you choose to work with (see below) will ask for these when your apprentice is signed up for the apprenticeship. It is therefore important to review your policies to ensure they are in place and up to date.

The policies required include:

Health and Safety

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act you must have a Health and Safety Policy. There is no requirement for this to be written if you have less than five employees but you are still required to have a policy on this.

Fire Safety Risk Assessment

Employers (and/or building owners or occupiers) must carry out a fire safety risk assessment and keep it up to date.

Equal Opportunities

Employers have a legal obligation to comply with the Equality Act, 2010 in all aspects of the employment relationship from recruitment through to termination of employment. Although there is no legal requirement to have an Equal Opportunities policy in place it is important to do so in order to demonstrate your company’s commitment to equality of opportunity. This is will be requested by the training provider.

Young workers and Safeguarding

If you are employing an apprentice who is under the age of 18 you will need to be aware and have clear policies on employment of young workers. This includes working time arrangements and safeguarding policies.

You will also need to provide a copy of the company public liability insurance documents when taking on an apprentice.

7. Draw up an Apprenticeship Agreement

There needs to be an Apprenticeship Agreement in place – this is a legally required written agreement between the employer, learner and training organisation containing the conditions of employment and training of the apprentice. The Apprenticeship Agreement should also include a statement of the skill, trade or occupation for which the apprentice is being trained under the qualifying Apprenticeship Standard.

An Apprenticeship Agreement should be drawn up when your apprentice starts and needs to contain certain things. The Apprenticeship, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 (the ‘Act’) provides that an agreement will be an ‘Apprenticeship Agreement’ if:

  • the apprentice undertakes to work for the employer under the agreement
  • the agreement is in the prescribed form
  • the agreement states that it is governed by the laws of England and Wales
  • the agreement states that it is entered into in connection with a qualifying Apprenticeship Standard.

The agreement should also give details of what you agree to do for the apprentice, including:

  • how long you’ll employ them for
  • the training you’ll give them
  • their working conditions
  • the qualifications they are working towards.

The requirement to be employed under an Apprenticeship Agreement is a condition for completion of an apprenticeship. Without it an apprenticeship certificate cannot be issued.

You may also want to consider the following provisions in any written contract:

  • if the apprentice is under 18, signature by their parent or guardian
  • a probationary period before the formal apprenticeship begins, to make it easier to remove any unsuitable candidates at the outset
  • the appointment of a mentor or person with special responsibility for apprentices who will take care of their welfare
  • details of how progress will be reviewed and monitored and at what intervals
  • the ability to terminate the relationship if the apprentice does not attain the necessary standards after a sufficient opportunity to do so
  • requirement for those who leave at the end of the apprenticeship to pay back certain training fees if they do not stay with you for a stated period of time
  • arrangements to transfer the apprentice in the case of redundancy, or at least to make reasonable efforts to find alternative work for them to enable them to complete their training.

The Apprenticeship Agreement should be signed by both the employer and the apprentice with both parties keeping a copy of the agreement.

Commitment statement

You must also sign a commitment statement with your apprentice and the training organisation. It must include:

  • the planned content and schedule for training
  • what is expected and offered by the employer, the training organisation and the apprentice
  • how to resolve queries or complaints.

8. Apprentice pay and Terms and Conditions

You should review the salary budget and decide what the apprentice will be paid – you must pay the minimum wage or apprentice rate where applicable (see below), but you can pay more in order to secure and retain the right apprentice for your business.

Apprentices need to be paid the National Minimum Wage. For apprentices – this is £3.90 (as at April, 2019) for those under the age of 19 or in first year of apprenticeship. Apprentices over 19 who have completed the first year of their apprenticeship are entitled to the correct minimum wage for their age.

Apprentices are exempt from National Insurance Contributions as of 6 April 2016.

Apprentices usually work for at least 30 paid hours a week and must work more than 16 hours.

You must pay your apprentice for time spent training or studying for a relevant qualification, whether while at work or at a college or training organisation.

You must offer apprentices the same conditions as other employees working at similar grades or in similar roles. This includes:

  • paid holidays (statutory minimum 20 days plus bank holidays)
  • sick pay
  • any benefits you offer, e.g. employee benefits initiatives or employee assistance programmes
  • any support you offer, e.g. coaching or mentoring.

9. Choose your training provider

It is important to find the right provider for your training needs. Most employers work in partnership with training providers to deliver their apprenticeship programme. To get the best results, it is important to choose a training provider that will meet your business requirements and fit your company culture and approach. Advice on the government website recommends considering your requirements before approaching a provider, paying particular attention to the following:

  • the business area and job role (and potential frameworks and levels)
  • the size and scope of the programme (numbers, geography and age groups)
  • whether you will integrate your in-house training materials.

How to identify good providers

All providers are quality-assured by Ofsted in England, so looking at the results of their assessment is a good starting point. Then narrow it down to a number of providers and invite them in for an interview. Remember, the training they deliver should match your needs, so make sure you manage the relationship with the provider adequately.

10. Recruit your apprentice

Recruiting an apprentice presents very different challenges from recruiting an experienced employee. It could be for a school or college leaver applying for an apprenticeship that the interview you’ve asked them to attend will be the first of their professional life, in which case, they may have difficulty demonstrating their skills and experience when asked to – partly because of inexperience, but also because they may not have worked before and aren’t sure how to discuss their school and extra-curricular activities in this way.

Remember that when recruiting an apprentice, you’re not looking for the finished product. You’re looking for the capacity to learn, develop and grow. This can be a useful point to remember during any apprentice recruitment process. Make sure to avoid age discrimination – don’t automatically presume applicants will be young people – and remember to adjust the recruitment process to the skill and experience level of the someone looking to start or change their career by undertaking an apprenticeship and therefore not necessarily having directly relevant experience.

You need to consider where you are going to place the job advertisement. You may want to consider the following as places to advertise for the apprentice:

  • Local Jobcentre
  • Online job boards (eg Indeed)
  • Attend local recruitment fairs or exhibitions
  • Offer work experience to local schools and colleges to build relationships.

An alternative is to speak to a local training provider who will often do this for you or may already have a pool of candidates for apprenticeships to draw on.

A good way to attract high-quality candidates is to engage with local schools. You could run information stands at open days, attend parent evenings and invite young people to visit your company. By doing this you also ensure that information about your opportunities reaches the parents and guardians of potential apprentices who, especially for the 16–18 age range, significantly influence the decision-making process of the would-be apprentice. Having a presence in local schools allows you to establish an image and relationship with your local community, which will help you to recruit talent in the future.

Do remember as well that you can offer apprenticeships to your current employees who are looking to develop or change their career pathway.


When interviewing a potential apprentice it is important to remember that this will most likely be a new experience for them. Making them feel comfortable by being sympathetic and offering encouragement will mean they are more likely to feel able to talk freely.

When developing the interview questions consider a skills-based/strength-based approach rather than competency-based interview. Focus your questions on finding out what they are good at and what they like doing and when they have had the opportunity to do so. Look for transferable skills which will be relevant to the apprenticeship. These may have been gained within an educational context or whilst pursuing hobbies and sporting interests.

You could also consider holding an assessment centre where candidates demonstrate their potential through group exercises that are observed by their potential managers. The activities could be designed to measure their potential, aptitude and/or skills depending on your company’s requirements, and scored against an outcome-based criteria. This could include completing group-based activities to establish how well they work as a team or practical tasks which demonstrate dexterity and precision.

11. Support your apprentice

There are a number of areas where you need to be prepared and equipped to support your apprentice throughout the duration of the apprenticeship:

  • Induction
  • The apprenticeship standards and your responsibilities and documentation
  • Off the job training
  • Ongoing support and evaluation
  • Assessment – End Point Assessment.


Once employed the apprentice will need a thorough induction; this may be their first job and they will have no previous experience so won’t necessarily have the confidence to ask questions.

A good induction should aim to:

  • Help the apprentice settle into the business and make them feel comfortable in their new surroundings.
  • Provide a good introduction to the role and how they fit in the wider team.
  • Provide practical guidance in areas such as working time, breaks, pay, working conditions, dress codes and health and safety.
  • Help the apprentice understand their duties and clearly explain the line of authority, including an introduction to the roles of the supervisors and managers.
  • Provide reassurance about where they can go for help if difficulties arise.
  • Give opportunities to get to know their colleagues and to integrate effectively into the wider workplace culture.
  • Provide plenty of opportunities to ask questions.

Most apprentices will be relatively new to the world of work, so the way they are managed is crucial. Just like your other employees, good management and supervision will help the apprentice to develop more quickly, but this is also about providing support to the individual, in terms of building up their confidence and demonstrating that they can play a positive role in the world of work and become a trained professional. The apprentice’s manager should set clear work plans, provide informal coaching, ongoing feedback and evaluate tasks undertaken to aid the apprentice’s development.

The apprenticeship standards and your responsibilities and documentation

It is important to understand the apprenticeship standards the apprentice is working to so that you can support them to meet the standard. This includes identifying and providing opportunities for the apprentice to undertake off the job training and complete on the job tasks in order to demonstrate they meet the requirements of the standard.

At the start of the apprenticeship you should work with your apprentice to carry out a learning needs analysis against the standards and to put together a development plan for them to work to. Your training provider will provide you will relevant documentation and support to do this.

Line managers should have regular review meetings with the apprentice and discuss evidence of where they have demonstrated competence against the apprenticeship standard. The review meeting is also to check whether they need any support and how they are dealing with all aspects of the apprenticeship, including training provider support and progress with any qualifications that are part of the apprenticeship. Line managers should encourage the apprentice to keep their development record up to date and ensure they log their off the job training hours.

Off the job training

Apprentices should be supported to attend off the job training and as an employer you are responsible for identifying opportunities for off the job training to learn and develop in order to demonstrate competence in relation to the apprenticeship standards. The training provider will support and provide training as part of the apprenticeship but it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure this happens and that opportunities within the work place are identified.

Ongoing support and evaluation

It is important to remember that an apprentice is with you because they want to be – they have made an active choice to learn on the job and a commitment to a specific career, so it is imperative to build on this commitment and give them the appropriate levels of responsibility but also the support they will need to succeed. The is to have a fully qualified and competent individual at the end of the apprenticeship.

You can do this by:

  • giving apprentices a clear outline of expectations and a safe supportive environment to learn and develop
  • encouraging them from the start to own and drive their programme targets and to seek regular feedback to self-assess their performance
  • up-skilling and developing line managers so they can coach their apprentice and act as a role model
  • putting a workplace learning mentor in place to further enhance the experience, adding and creating a proactive environment that builds on their eagerness, motivation and commitment
  • If an apprentice is new to the workplace environment or has a specific learning disability, this should be factored into the programme and additional support provided, for example one-to-one coaching, or learning materials.

Regular meetings to asses and discuss performance should be factored in to their training programme and this should allow for both self-evaluation and constructive feedback to keep the apprentice on track to complete their qualification at the required time.

End Point Assessment

At the end of the apprenticeship your apprentice will go through End Point Assessment. This varies with different apprenticeships but will include putting together a portfolio of evidence. As an employer your role will be to support your apprentice and equip them to go through the End Point Assessment. The training provider will liaise with you to make an assessment as to when the apprentice is ready to complete this process.

Once your apprentice has completed and passed their End Point Assessment the apprenticeship is completed. Ideally you will have identified well in advance of this point where there is a role for them to step into and discussed the contractual arrangements around this. This is the ideal situation, where an apprentice is taken on as a permanent employee, however, it is recognised that this is not always possible. Where the apprentice is not taken on it is important to support them with job applications to secure alternative employment.

Tools and resources

Use the grievance policy key elements checklist to help you start to create or update your grievance policy.

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