How does an apprenticeship work?

Apprenticeships are special – and that’s not just because you get paid to study! Unlike most other types of jobs, you’ll follow a set programme of work during your apprenticeship. It’ll run for a fixed period of time. And you won’t spend all your time in one place. In fact, your apprenticeship could take you all over the country… maybe even the world!

Sound interesting? Here’s a visual guide to how an apprenticeship works. It’ll give you a clearer idea of how it might differ from some of the jobs your friends have. So you can decide if it’s the right career path for you.

Obviously apprenticeships don't all follow the same format. This is a general guide to give you an idea of what you can expect. So make sure to check the particular details for any programmes you apply for.

There are different levels of apprenticeships

Not all apprenticeships are the same – and not just because they might be for different roles e.g. a Digital Engineering Technician apprentice vs. a Plant Technician apprentice.

There are four levels of apprenticeship and they correlate to different education levels:

TypeLevelEquivalent educational level
Intermediate2GCSE
Advanced3A Level
Higher4, 5, 6 & 7Foundation degree and above
Degree6 & 7Bachelor’s or master’s degree

Source: gov.uk/apprenticeships-guide

You may also gain additional qualifications or achievements during your time, specific to your role or working environment. For instance, you might become a First Aider or Fire Marshall for your company. And it’s definitely worth updating your LinkedIn profile to include achievements like this – not to mention, including it on your CV or bringing it up when in conversation with future employers.

Read more about apprenticeships at HPC

The application process can involve several steps

There’s no standard process when applying for an apprenticeship. But more often than not, you’ll have to do more than fill in an application form! 

This is because employers spend a significant amount of time and money on training you during an apprenticeship – it’s not a typical job. So they want to make sure that anyone they take on is committed to the role. And because you’re unlikely to have any industry qualifications yet – you’ll achieve this on the job! – they want to know you have the right skills and behaviours.

There are usually a few steps involved in an apprenticeship application:

  1. Apply online
  2. Complete some online testing
  3. Take part in an assessment centre activities – which might involve group and individual tasks
  4. Take part in a face-to-face or online interview
  5. Hopefully get offered the job!

This is why you should think ahead about applying for an apprenticeship before you finish school or college. Since the application process can take a few weeks, maybe even months. Also check the start date for any applications to make sure you can definitely begin on that date.

More often than not, you’ll be one of several apprentices starting the apprenticeship. So you’re unlikely to be able to negotiate a later start date if you’ve got a holiday booked to Magaluf – or haven’t left college by the official start date for the programme.

An apprenticeship usually lasts between one and five years

The length of your apprenticeship usually depends on the level of apprenticeship and qualification you achieve at the end of it. So if you’re on a degree apprenticeship – the highest level of apprenticeship available – your programme could last five to six years.

The job description will usually explain how long the apprenticeship lasts – or ask the employer if you’re unsure.

You’ll split your time between work and study

This is one of the key differences between an apprenticeship and any other job. As an apprentice, you spend at least 20% of your time – that’s about one day a working week – in what’s called ‘off-the-job’ training. This might be at college, university or another type of training provider – the application will cover the specifics of where you’ll be studying.

This doesn’t mean you’ll always spend one day a week in college though (this is called ‘day release’). The time spent studying is likely to vary over the course of the programme. So it could be that most of your first year is spent in college covering the theory side of the job. With the remainder of your time spent working on site. Spending a large chunk of your time studying in this way is called ‘block release’. 

You could move around with the apprenticeship

Your apprenticeship could take you around the country… maybe even to different parts of the world!

This is often the case when your places of study and work aren’t located near one another. For instance, if you’re an Engineering Maintenance Apprentice with EDF, you’ll spend the first two years studying and taking part in team-building activities at the National College for Nuclear in Somerset. After that, you’ll return to your workplace – which could be at any of EDF’s power stations around the country, like Sizewell, Torness, Heysham, Hartlepool, Dungeness, or Hinkley Point C in the future.

Find out more about EDF’s Engineering Maintenance Apprenticeship.

It might also be that your employer has overseas operations and part of your training takes you abroad. Or you get to travel to an event or conference as part of your programme. You might even be lucky enough to take part in extra-curricular activities that take you away from home – like Sam, an EDF Engineering Maintenance Apprentice, who features in this film.

You’ll be supported throughout your apprenticeship

Apprentices are part of a creative, vibrant and supportive environment on site at HPC – and this should be the case wherever you take up an apprenticeship.

At HPC, we have on-site accommodation, with a sports bar, gym, canteen and more to help you relax with your friends. There’s space for you to work and study in the apprentice Hub too. So you get the quiet time you need to work on your studies. There’s also a full support package to look after your emotional wellbeing. Since for many apprentices, taking up an apprenticeship could be the first time you’ve lived away from home.

What happens at the end of an apprenticeship

Like any period of study, you’ll be assessed as part of your apprenticeship. Depending on the role, this might be during your time or at the end in a more formal end assessment. But whatever you study or whichever level you’re working towards, you’ll leave the apprenticeship with some form of qualification (assuming you’ve successfully met the programme criteria).

What next? Well, that’s up to you! You've worked hard to get this far and you’ll have picked up some valuable skills and behaviours along the way – and hopefully a qualification at the end of it.

71% of apprentices stay with their employer – after all, you’ve proved you can do the job and you’re likely to be quite settled into your role . But perhaps you want to get further qualifications… Travel with your job.

Spend some time thinking about what you want to do, so that you make the decision that’s right for you.

Find out more about apprenticeships at HPC

Useful links

What about Covid-19?

The good news is apprenticeships are still continuing during Covid-19 – and we’re still recruiting for roles at HPC. Inevitably with the restrictions posed by Covid-19 though, there are some changes to how apprenticeships are being delivered.

For instance, you might be asked to a virtual assessment centre – instead of a face-to-face assessment – as part of the application process. 

Some colleges have also switched to digital or distance learning, rather than having apprentices travel to their place of study for the training part of the programme. It might also be you have to take time off work, if you become ill or need to self-isolate.

You can read more about the government guidance here. But also talk to the employer running the apprenticeship if you have any concerns. Each apprenticeship is different – and employers are approaching the challenges posted by Covid-19 in different ways too.