Launching your school leaver programme, apprenticeship or even a sponsored degree can be a key but worthwhile challenge. With lots of steps to take to enable your programme to be successful.

You will need to take several important business decisions to ensure that your programme is set up correctly, that’s before you start your promotion campaign.

You will have lots of initial questions, so we’ve put together a guide to answer anything you are unsure of and get you started on your apprenticeship journey.

If you are launching from scratch, then you are in the right place. We will guide you through the process from registering your enquiry with the National Apprenticeship Service, to your first apprentice joining your business.

Deciding whether to run a school leaver programme or an apprenticeship scheme? How long can apprenticeships take and what happens when your apprentice or school leaver (trainee) has finished your programme? How do you put together a programme? What apprenticeship frameworks should you use? What are the various levels of apprenticeship and what should you offer? Do apprentices have a different kind of employment contract? Shall we do our apprenticeship in house or shall we use a training provider? How do we find out if there is any government funding or any other grants available?

The positive effect apprentices have on businesses

How to set up a school leaver programme

Why offer a sponsored degree?

Is there a limit to the number of Apprentices a company can take on?

What happens after an Apprenticeship?

What happens after a School Leaver Programme?

How long is an Apprenticeship?

What Employment Contract should an Apprentice have?

How to set up an Apprenticeship?

Is an Apprentice an Employee?

Why take on an Apprentice?

How to find a list of all the Apprenticeships available?


The positive effect apprentices have on businesses

The last couple of years have seen an immense surge in the number of apprenticeships being offered across the UK, with 509,400 courses beginning in 2015/16.

Apprentices not only fill skills gaps, they do so in a cost-effective way, which affords businesses more freedom to nurture their next generation of talent.
More and more employers today are waking up to the benefits of apprenticeships. This can either be employing a new member of staff as an apprentice or encouraging an existing employee to further their career by taking an apprenticeship.

An apprenticeship allows an individual to study for a work-based qualification that can significantly improve their future earning power and career enjoyment. But it also provides many benefits for the employer.

Here are some key benefits of apprenticeships for employers:

Apprenticeships provide skilled workers for the future

Apprenticeship training helps employees to improve their skills, which will benefit the company in the long term.

An apprenticeship will also ensure that the skills developed are matched to the company’s future needs. This will help fill any skills gaps and allow the business to source future managers and leaders from within.

Apprenticeships increase staff loyalty and retention

Employees who have been trained in-house tend to be highly motivated, committed to the company and supportive of its business objectives.

An apprenticeship encourages employees to think of their job as a career and to stay with the company for longer, which reduces recruitment costs. Offering an apprenticeship to an existing member of staff shows that you see them as an integral part of the workforce and are happy to invest in their future.

According to data from the National Apprenticeship Service, 92% of companies that have taken on apprentices believe this leads to a more motivated and satisfied workforce and 80% have seen a significant increase in employee retention.

Apprenticeships increase a company’s bottom line

Investing in staff trained through apprenticeships has a positive effect on a company’s finances, making it more competitive.

National Apprenticeship Service data has shown that 81% of consumers favour using a company that takes on apprentices. You can even calculate the return on investment of an apprenticeship on your business on the organisation’s website.

Furthermore, as companies receive funding for each apprentice they take on, it means they don’t have to spend as much to recruit new staff into the business. 

Apprenticeships free up existing staff time

As a business grows, staff often find their time is taken up by smaller tasks when they should be concentrating on their key areas of work.

Delegating these basic jobs to an apprentice allows them to learn and take responsibility, while freeing up the time of your more experienced staff. Better allocation of work should make your business more productive.

Apprentices can revitalise a company

Apprentices often bring a fresh approach and a positive attitude into the workplace, which can have a knock-on effect on existing staff. By embarking on an apprenticeship, they are showing themselves to be willing to learn and can bring new energy and innovative ideas into the company.

As apprentices come from a range of backgrounds – including high-calibre candidates who do not want the costs of going to university – they can bring fresh insight into your business activities.

Employing apprenticeships is a fantastic way of injecting new energy and creative ideas into a business. The way apprentices approach problem solving is vastly different from other staff and that can often lead to new and innovative ways of working. When using technology, for example, apprentices are often keen to improve processes, or find ways of speeding them up.

More than the impact on the processes, an apprenticeship also helps to develop staff, giving them the opportunity to mentor and nurture someone inexperienced. The development of these interpersonal skills has a knock-on impact for the way they support other members of staff, potentially having a far wider impact.

If your business is encountering a skills shortage or recruitment problem, you might consider an apprentice to inject a little more enthusiasm. They are an ideal solution, and will relish the opportunity to make an impression. They are hungry for the opportunity, they want to learn and are fresh with new ideas without many preconceptions.

Notoriously, apprentices are younger and other members of the team are open to helping them and pass on their knowledge which in turn improves communication and morale.

Between the apprentice, the colleagues, the business owner, the business itself and the wider UK economy, there is a wide range of benefits to be had from apprentices. It’s a win-win situation all around.

Finally, a company that is willing to invest in people by supporting apprenticeships is showing a positive approach to Corporate Social Responsibility, which is good for attracting both customers and future high-quality staff.


How to set up a school leaver programme

Employers across the UK run some great school leaver programmes and the following questions seem to be key as their answers will help you on your way to setting up your school leaver programme.

Why did your business decide to set up a school leaver programme?

To grow our own talent for the future.

How did you devise the programme?

The important aspect was to develop a programme where the individual could spend a period of time on formal study at college or university and then be able to apply the theory to reality in a practical situation – at the office or on site – throughout the whole development programme.

We also wanted to ensure that we provided behavioural and business development as well: team working, communication, problem analysis, planning and organising and finance, project management, negotiation and influencing skills.

Formal training is delivered in two-week slots across the two or three year programme.

How do you work with the Colleges or Universities involved?

We’ve worked hand in hand with Colleges and Universities who helped to tailor this course specifically to our business’s needs.

It’s suitable both for people who have never studied before beyond A-level, as well as for those who already have a background or experience in the specific role the apprenticeship is in.

What funding is offered to students?

For our Degree Level Apprenticeship, we offer students full funding with a competitive starting salary, a car for travel during training, full-board accommodation while at our specialist training centre, pension scheme, 25 days’ annual leave plus statutory holidays and a Sharesave options.

How do you ensure you recruit the best school leavers?

We have key academic entrance requirements. We need to ensure that individuals are set up for success when they join our business and they are not struggling with the course from day one.

We then take them through many recruitment stages so that they can demonstrate all their current skills and capabilities, for example on-line application forms and motivations for the role; video interviews; assessment centres, which include a competency based interview; group exercises and planning and presentation exercises.


Why offer a sponsored degree?

Why it’s worth offering a sponsored degree programme? Lots of UK Employers are starting to offer the degree level apprenticeship – It is likely that companies offering sponsored degrees will retain students after they complete their study, reaping the rewards of the skill set developed over the course of the degree.

Sharon Goymer, Resourcing Manager at National Grid, is involved in the selection process for the company’s Engineer Training Programme, she said:

“The Engineer Training Programme was established to develop and grow our own engineering talent for the future.

“National Grid has developed the foundation degree with Aston University and the HNC with West Cheshire College so that it is specific for our needs and provides individuals with the technical knowledge they need to be successful in their role at the end of the development programme.”


Is there a limit to the number of Apprentices a company can take on?

There isn’t a limit to the number of apprentices a business can take on, but they must ensure programmes meet the requirements set out by the relevant authorities.

If taking on more apprentices impedes an organisation’s ability to meet requirements, no more should be employed.

In England and Wales businesses must pay their apprentices at least the minimum wage during their placement.

All apprentices must:

Work with experienced staff, learn job-specific skills and study for a work-based qualification during their working week, e.g. attend college or training organisation.


What happens after an Apprenticeship?

According to the experts – the Skills Funding Agency – what the standard procedure is at the end of an apprenticeship programme.

“Apprenticeships are jobs and apprentices are treated like anyone else in the workplace.”

Apprentices should be issued with an apprenticeship agreement(a contract of employment) from the day they start to give them the same employment rights as any employee. Once an apprentice has completed their apprenticeship, they should continue to work as part of that organisation, and in some instances get the chance to progress on to a higher-level apprenticeship.

If the business is not able to offer continuing employment following the apprenticeship they still should offer certain support: “There are occasions where an apprenticeship could be offered as a fixed term contract and where this happens,” says the Skills Funding Agency.

“We would expect the employer to support apprentices to secure other employment and, at the very least, offer them an exit interview.”


What happens after a School Leaver Programme?

When a trainee comes to the end of a school leaver programme, they are usually offered a position within the company.

There is no legal obligation – but both trainee and company can choose whether they want to continue the employment or not – but there are lots of advantages to retaining school leavers, and many companies make a point of offering positions – or spots on graduate programmes – to trainees on completion of their programmes.

At EY for example, like many organisations, some Directors and even Partners started out there as school leavers.

Another high profile school leaver programme employer, Baker Tilly, said: “Retention rate is greater with school leavers than with other employees. They’re eager to learn, and the firm’s culture is embedded into them quicker than with other employees.

“Offering a school leaver programme ensures the company’s workforce is not ‘top heavy’.

“We bring in school leavers in the hope that they will become our future partners. There are partners in the firm today who went into accountancy through the school leaver route.

“School leavers generally stay on after completing their programmes, to go on and complete our graduate scheme. This is fantastic pipeline for Baker Tilly.”


How long is an Apprenticeship?

Each apprenticeship is different – they vary in length. An apprenticeship can take between one and four years to complete, depending on the level of the programme, the apprentice’s ability and the industry sector.

For example, an Intermediate Level 2 Apprenticeship usually takes around 12 to 18 months and an Advanced Level 3 Apprenticeship around 24 months.

If taken part-time, they obviously increase in length, depending on how the apprentice’s time is split.

What Employment Contract should an Apprentice have?

An apprenticeship agreement must be signed by both the apprentice and the employer at the start of any apprenticeship, to confirm individual employment arrangements between both parties.

It is specific to apprenticeships – an employment contract used for standard employees is not suffice for an apprentice.

The apprenticeship agreement must also include a statement of the skill, trade or occupation for which the apprentice is being trained under the qualifying apprenticeship framework.

A template for this can be downloaded from the Skills Funding Agency website.


How to set up an Apprenticeship?

There are several steps to setting up an apprenticeship:

Remember: You can use an apprenticeship training agency if you want to employ an apprentice without the responsibility of actually running the apprenticeship scheme.


Is an Apprentice an Employee?

When an employer takes on an apprentice, it essentially takes on an employee. Apprentices have the same employee rights as anyone else, except there is a pre-planned end to that employment which will be stated in the apprenticeship agreement.

Although apprentices will be training during the scheme, they should receive a regular wage and be entitled to holidays, fair working hours and rest breaks.

Working Hours

The limit for an average working week is 48 hours, or 40 if an apprentice or employee is under 18. People can work more than this in one week, but over a 17-week period it must average out to less than this.

Apprentices, like employees, are also entitled to at least one 20-minute break for every six hours that you work and at least 11 hours off between shifts.

Holiday Entitlement

Apprentices are entitled to at least one and a half days’ paid holiday for every month of your training – you will also get bank holidays. Check your contract of employment to see what you have been given. You also have the right to at least 24 hours free from work in a week or 48 hours free in two weeks. This increases to 48 hours free from work in a week if you under 18.


Apprentices are paid a regular wage weekly or monthly, and pay tax and national insurance as normal.

The National Minimum Wage for apprentices is £3.50 per hour.

The rate applies to apprentices aged 16-18, and to those aged 19 or over who are in their first year of their training. All other apprentices are entitled to the national minimum wage for their age.

Employers are free to pay above the new wage and many do so, but employers must ensure that they are paying their apprentices at least the minimum wage.


Why take on an Apprentice?

There are many ways apprentices benefit their employers:

Fresh talent

Every business needs innovative ideas to keep growing, and new people to generate and execute these new ideas. Young people bring new energy to any business; they’re keen to learn and keen to try out new ideas.

New skills

Because they’re being trained now, apprentices will learn skills that might not currently be used in the workplace: bringing new knowledge to the businesses that take them on.


Research shows that employers find apprentices make the most loyal employees. A survey showed more than half of employers offering apprenticeships say that apprentices stay in the business longer than other recruits.

Meeting social responsibilities

Every employer has a wider responsibility to their local community and wider society. By taking on an apprentice, a business is:

Increasing the life chances of the young people and boosting the economy

Demonstrating that the business is socially responsible, and raising the business’s community profile

Helping to tackle unemployment in the local area, and creating a more diverse workforce

Supporting the UK’s strategy to help young people into employment.

Attracting new business

Research shows that that apprenticeships are not just helping employers to build a loyal, skilled workforce, but enabling them to attract new business. 76% of apprentice employers polled say they promote their apprenticeship credentials when pitching for new business or talking about their company.

A third of employers questioned said they are more likely to choose a supplier or partner if they offer apprenticeships.

How to find a list of all the Apprenticeships available?

The Skills Funding Agency keeps a list of the apprenticeships frameworks available for employers and training organisations.

The Apprenticeships frameworks live list, which you can find here.

To accompany this is an apprenticeship frameworks factsheet, found here.

An apprenticeship framework:

  • Covers all the statutory requirements for an apprenticeship programme in England
  • Is used by colleges, employers and training providers to make sure that all apprenticeship programmes are delivered consistently and to national standards
  • Includes the names of all qualifications and what each qualification is worth
  • Gives guidance on how to get onto an apprenticeship programme, the time it will take and career paths available after an apprenticeship.
  • Apprenticeship Frameworks Online (AFO) contains detailed information on all the apprenticeship frameworks currently available.
  • It contains information on both publicly funded and non-funded frameworks with England and Wales.