An apprenticeship can be a valuable and rewarding route into an engineering career if you’re interested in earning while you learn. The number of apprenticeships in the UK has grown in recent years, thanks to more investment from the UK government.
But there are a lot of apprenticeships out there – and this means that the process of finding them can be quite a long and complicated one. After all, apprenticeships are a lot like jobs, meaning that the market for them is very large and very diverse.
Then there’s the challenge of knowing what skills you want to learn and what experience you want to gain during the course of your apprenticeship. If a career in engineering is something you’re interested in, you may feel overwhelmed by the different companies and specialisations out there (Do you want to be a civil engineer or work as a mechanical engineer?). How can you know what you want to specialise in if you haven’t got any work experience?
In this article, we’ll look at how you can research apprenticeships, some of the different companies that offer them, what you can gain from an apprenticeship (as well as some of the potential limitations) and give you some tips on how to deal with poor quality apprenticeships (fingers crossed it never happens)
The pros and cons of an engineering apprenticeship
An apprenticeship isn’t for everyone. Whilst the government has invested a lot of money in the development and promotion of apprenticeships, it’s not always the right route. It’s also worth noting that some fields of engineering, particularly the more specialist ones, won’t always offer an apprenticeship route – instead, some kind of specific academic or vocational qualification might be a better option.
So let’s look at the some of the pros and cons of taking the apprenticeship route into engineering.
Earning While Learning
This is probably the big headline benefit of an apprenticeship – it allows you to learn a trade and get paid at the same time. An apprenticeship essentially offers the benefits of further/higher education, whilst also offering the security of a job. If you think you want to learn the basics of engineering whilst earning a wage, then this route is a no-brainer!
No Tuition Fees or Student Loans
Choosing an engineering degree at university comes with the requirement to apply for a student loan to cover the costs of your course. Some students are (understandably) now put off by the increasing financial cost of studying at university. Earning a steady income whilst learning can be an attractive alternative to a degree that will require the repayment of a student loan later in life.
….But You’ll Still Get A Qualification
An apprenticeship in engineering doesn’t just equip you with skills – you will come away with a qualification. Whether it’s an apprenticeship post-16, or a degree level apprenticeship, starting out in this route is a great foundation to kick-start a rewarding career in engineering!
A Job At The End
The workplace skills you’ll gain from your apprenticeship will make it easier to find a related job when it’s over. If you’re lucky, the company you’ve been working for during your apprenticeship will offer you a fully-fledged job at the end.
It’s A Flexible Pathway
Working towards an apprenticeship doesn’t mean you can’t move into a different pathway later on. For example, if you take an advanced apprenticeship (usually the equivalent to an A-level qualification at college) you will still be working towards a qualification that can equip you for a university degree should you still want to apply for one.
A lower wage
According to 2016 labour market report published by the government, graduates entering the workforce with a university degree will earn an average of £9,500 more a year than someone with a vocational qualification. But engineering can be a lucrative career path, so it’s still worth looking into individual apprenticeships carefully.
Apprenticeships are competitive
Like a university degree, apprenticeships are very competitive – especially if it’s an apprenticeship with a lucrative or high profile company. You’ll need to approach an apprenticeship like a normal job application – it will involve a lot of preparation work and you’ll need to be comfortable in an interview setting!
Some engineering paths don’t offer apprenticeships
Whilst the number of general apprenticeships is growing every year, there are some routes into an engineering where an apprenticeship with an employer isn’t on offer. In addition, some specialist fields of engineering may require an undergraduate or postgraduate degree (but don’t forget that some post-16 apprenticeships could equip you with the skills to apply for a degree later – make sure to research your options!)
What type of engineering apprenticeship is right for me?
The range of companies offering engineering apprenticeships is diverse. There are also different types of apprenticeship and some will be more suited to you than others, depending on the qualifications you already hold. In this next section, we’ll give you a quick tips on how to find an apprenticeship.
What’s the right level of apprenticeship for me?
There are multiple levels of apprenticeship – finding the right one will ultimately depend on your age, and the qualifications you already possess.
These are apprenticeships for students who are still at secondary school and are just starting out. If you’re reading this and you want to start learning a trade and getting paid to do so as quickly as possible, then look into an Intermediate Apprenticeship – they’re a great way of getting your foot on the engineering career ladder.
Intermediate apprenticeships will differ on what qualifications you are expected to have before you start. Some intermediate apprenticeships will ask you hold GCSEs in English and Maths, whilst others will allow you to start with no academic qualifications at all (though you will be expected to take a literacy or numeracy test as part of your assessment for the role).
The drawbacks of an intermediate apprenticeship for engineering is that you will be heading a particular career path with a particular employer very early on – you may find yourself following working in a specific field of engineering before you know your core strengths and skills. But for people who aren’t interested in an academic route, then an intermediate apprenticeship is an option worth considering.
If you have five good GCSE grades (A* to C) then this makes you eligible to apply for an advanced apprenticeship. This means that an advanced apprenticeship is roughly equivalent to studying at sixth form college or doing your A-levels.
An advanced apprenticeship is equivalent to two A-level passes, or work-based qualifications like NVQ Level 3 or a BTEC National qualification. Many employers offer an advanced apprenticeship.
If you’re thinking about engineering, then an advanced apprenticeship might be worth consideration if you have good academic grades in Maths and Science-based subjects at school, you have a rough idea of where your engineering interests lie, and you don’t want to pursue an academic pathway any further.
These apprenticeships allow you to build on the qualifications you have gained at Intermediate or Apprenticeship level. As a result, higher apprenticeships are offered by fewer employers and/or require you to already hold an advanced apprenticeship or a minimum of two A-levels in order to qualify. There’s no cast iron rule here, but higher apprenticeships are aimed more at students aged 18 or over.
A higher apprenticeship qualification would see you work towards a qualification like an NVQ level 4, a foundation degree or a Higher National Diploma (HND).
As you may have guessed from the title, degree level apprenticeships offer the chance to combine full time work with part time university study. At first glance, degree level apprenticeships might seem similar to higher apprenticeships – however a degree apprenticeship means that university study is mandatory. There’s plenty of flexibility around your employer’s needs with a degree apprenticeship.
Degree level apprenticeships are aimed primarily (but not exclusively) at school leavers and might be a good option for you if you’re leaving sixth form college and are looking at an alternative route into a particular engineering specialisation.
Some of the engineering specialisations offering degree level apprenticeships include aerospace engineering, automotive engineering, civil engineering and electronic systems engineering. Before considering a degree level apprenticeship, it’s worth researching which universities offer apprenticeships in your preferred field of engineering.
What kind of employer is the right fit for me?
Since their introduction, a growing number of companies and organisations have started offering apprenticeships. These employers will vary greatly in both size and profile. The number of apprenticeship providers is too large to go into depth here, but we can provide you with a few useful insights on how to find the right type of apprenticeship employer for you. As you do your research, here are a few questions to ask yourself.
What size company do I want to work for?
A larger company will offer a very different apprenticeship from a smaller one. Many large companies offer a type of engineering apprenticeship scheme, and these are likely to be more well-established. Joining a larger apprenticeship scheme will be a great opportunity to meet potential friends and colleagues with career interests similar to yours. Larger companies may also offer a more clear career progression.
Many smaller companies will offer an apprenticeship too. If you work for a small or medium sized business, you might be the only apprentice. Apprenticeships for smaller companies might give you more opportunities to shape your career prospects and interests around you.
How competitive is the apprenticeship?
Applying for an apprenticeship is like applying for a job, so some might be more competitive than others. This is something to think about when starting your search. It might be worth spreading your application efforts across a good mix of well-established, competitive schemes and lesser known apprenticeships that also offer good prospects.
What will the working culture be like?
Closely linked to the question of an employer’s size is the question of its culture. Do you want to work for a fast-paced larger company, or do you think you will prefer a more intimate working environment at a smaller company.
What are the career prospects like for this apprenticeship?
As we discussed earlier, you might find yourself in the fortunate position of being offered a job at the end of your apprenticeship.
But it’s still worth asking yourself at the point of application – what are my career prospects in this apprenticeship? Where do you want to be in five or ten years time? If you have a particular type of engineering career path in mind, will this apprenticeship help you get there? Are there opportunities to advance within this company, or will taking this apprenticeship allow you to progress onto a further qualification?
How to find and research engineering apprenticeships
In order to narrow down your apprenticeship options, you need to know where to look. Rather than spending hours and hours doing aimless Google searches, why not try one of these resources to hone your apprenticeship options and create a shortlist of potential avenues?
The National Apprenticeship Service
This is a helpful government website designed to allow students and young people to easily search for relevant apprenticeships. You can find over 19,000 potential apprenticeship vacancies and it’s easy to filter apprenticeships based on skill level, location and even relevant keywords if you’re looking for roles in specific engineering fields.
There are many online job websites through which you can find an apprenticeship. Examples include Monster, Reed and TotalJobs. There’s even a specialist site devoted to helping match employers with apprentices and vice versa. The Apprentice Employment Agency offers resources for employers, apprentices and training providers.
Search Social Media
It may sound like a bit of a disorganised way to find an apprenticeship, but employers and training providers are increasingly advertising on social media. A few ideas to get started include.
- Following or searching for relevant organisations on Twitter. The UK government’s official @apprenticeships Twitter feed is one example of a place you can find news, advice and potential vacancies.
- Log on to LinkedIn and follow relevant engineering businesses or companies that you think might offer apprenticeships. See if you can reach out to professionals in your industry. It’s never too early to start creating a stand out LinkedIn profile and thinking about how you can stand out to potential training providers.
Contacting potential employers yourself is an option you should never rule out. Many companies are on the lookout for apprentices, but you don’t have to wait for a job advert to appear. Why not make a list of the companies you’re interested in, and then visit their websites to either (a) search any internal apprenticeship vacancies or (b) find contact details to send a speculative application.
Apprenticeship & Careers Fair
It’s worth trying to find job/apprenticeship fairs where you could meet potential employers. These are a great opportunity to reach out to potential employers and do some networking. So print off your CV, put on a smart suit and prepare to dazzle a potential training provider!
Be prepared to ask some targeted specific questions (if you need some inspiration, refer back to the previous section) in order to make the most out of a potential fair. A few examples of potential fairs include:
Both of these are great opportunities to meet potential training providers and generally find more about apprentices.
If you’d like to know more about the different routes into engineering, and how apprenticeships fit in, read our guide to the different types of engineering pathways