How to Apply For an Apprenticeship – A Comprehensive Guide

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Apprenticeships are quickly becoming a viable alternative to traditional education. The hands-on experience along with the free qualification that you study towards are just some of the benefits of this pathway. However, schools and colleges often discourage apprenticeships with the thought that they are lower quality and for people who don’t know how to study. Due to this, many students are left misinformed about how to apply. I was one of those students. After some research and applying to apprenticeships myself, I learned that the process isn’t as daunting as I once thought.

The process for applying to an apprenticeship is very similar to that of a normal job. You typically start with an online application where you put in basic details about yourself. This could be on a job searching site, the company website or even the training provider’s site. You have to keep an eye out on a variety, so you don’t miss out on opportunities. Now after the pandemic, many of the application steps have been moved online.

This article will walk you through the steps you might expect to see when applying for an apprenticeship. By the end, you’ll hopefully feel more confident going through the process.

What is the application process for an apprenticeship?

When you apply for an apprenticeship, you are primarily applying for a job. There seems to be a misconception that you need to focus on the college, university, or training provider that you’ll get the qualification from. In actuality, the company you will work at handles the bulk of the application process.

Applying for an apprenticeship follows very similar procedures as applying to any other job. Typically, you have an online application, assessment centre and interview. Those are the three pillars to most job applications. They can come in any order and include a range of activities depending on the company.

What is an online application for an apprenticeship like?

The online portion is usually the very first step to your application. Most apprentices find their roles online. From there, they apply for the job. It is here where you will give the company basic details about you. This includes any qualifications you have earned, such as GCSEs or A-Levels, your address and contact details.

You might also be asked to provide a CV and/or cover letter. Your CV should include all those details mentioned before along with some bullet points about your skills and abilities. This may well be your very first CV and you might think initially that you have nothing to put on it. If that sounds like you, check out this article by Youth Employment UK to get some first CV writing tips. 

Think of a cover letter like an extended version of your CV. Usually around one side of A4, you’ll talk in more detail about what you can offer while weaving in the reasons why you’ve decided to apply for this specific role at this specific company. Be prepared to tweak your cover letter to suit each company you apply to and avoid vague language that makes your application sound too generic. Prospects has a thorough article you can read here which goes over the ins and outs of writing cover letters in more detail.

You might find as you’re applying that some companies don’t even ask for either of these. Instead, they opt to ask a series of questions that you provide written answers to, usually within a word limit. You should expect the questions to be mostly motivational, meaning they’re surrounding your reasons for applying.

What is an assessment centre for an apprenticeship like?

Assessment centres vary wildly across companies, but they are ultimately used to determine how suitable you are for the role through activities and tasks. There has been a recent trend of “gamifying” the process. Some assessment centres have even incorporated memory games and VR (Virtual Reality) challenges as tests.

Generally, there will be a group activity with other applicants. This is where your collaborative skills are tested. You might have to present an idea as a team or solve a logic problem or any manner of things. The key is to ensure everyone has a say while contributing to the task.

Some assessment centres also feature individual tasks. This could be anything from presenting to an assessor to sending fake emails in a hypothetical business situation. Companies are becoming more and more creative with their approaches to assessment centres. Prospects has an article here which goes into further detail about what to expect.

What is an interview for an apprenticeship like?

Interviews for apprenticeships typically last around an hour or less. You could be interviewed by one person or multiple people. They will likely have something to do with the program you’re trying to get onto.

Depending on the company, their interview might be more conversational and have no formal structure. It could just be about the interviewer(s) trying to get to know you and your motivations. However, some are strictly professional, and the interviewer(s) may even have a script of questions to stick to.

The tone of the interview should be made obvious to you before going in and it will impact the way you choose to dress during the stage. Check out this Think Student article for outfit ideas depending on the formality of the interview.

The interview is often the final stage to an application, and it is likely to occur face to face rather than over the phone. Though, with the pandemic, you might find your interviewer(s) work from home and so your interview is held virtually.

How should you prepare to apply for an apprenticeship?

Applying for your first apprenticeship can be nerve-wracking. By taking a few simple steps to prepare, you can make the process much smoother.

Step 1: Apply for an apprenticeship early

This one easy thing you can do tends to be overlooked. Apprenticeships are open all year around, but they are often concentrated around the start of the academic year in September. It would be a great idea to plan out exactly who you are going to apply for. You can also make note of them in a spreadsheet or document you can keep track of.

By doing so, you can plan out time to build a good application. You won’t be wildly applying to every company you see, wasting more time in the process. For those of you still in education while you’re applying, getting it out of the way means you leave yourself more time to focus on your exams or assignments.

Step 2: Prepare your CV for your apprenticeship

Another thing to prepare is knowledge of your CV. You might already have one written, but many people forget what they even put on there. An interviewer might use your CV as a launch pad to ask questions. If you can’t speak in depth about what’s written, it creates a bad impression.

If you claim you’re good at teamwork or leadership in the skills section, for example, be prepared to be asked about how you’ve demonstrated those skills. You should have some examples in your head, ready to be given when asked.

Step 3: Find what the employer is looking for

In a similar vein, you should have the job description readily available to review as you need it. Employers tend to put certain traits they’re looking for in their description. Things like collaborative, motivated, eager to learn and passionate are rife in apprentice job descriptions so they are a must in your application to appeal to them.

Another thing to get out of the way before applying is answers to common questions. Companies often use the same questions reworded in online applications. Having a document with your answers to these makes things much quicker when doing multiple applications.

Even with things like inputting your qualifications can get tedious after a while so being able to copy and paste them saves a bit of time. RateMyApprenticeship has a good article with some common interview questions you can find here.

How hard are apprenticeships to find?

Apprenticeships are fairly easy to find despite being a less common education route compared to university or college. You go about finding one the same way you’d go about searching for any other job. The most common way to find an apprenticeship is by looking for them online.

Where can you find an apprenticeship?

The UK government’s apprenticeship site is a decent place to find an apprenticeship of any level. Using your location, preferred industry and apprenticeship level amongst other information, the site provides you with a list of apprenticeships. You can also apply through the site after making an account which you can do here.

One shortcoming of the government’s service is that it is often not up to date and not all apprenticeships are available on it. To avoid missing out on opportunities, it’s best to keep an eye out on several sites. You may want to set up email notifications to ensure you get the information early.

Another recommended site is Gradcracker. Though primarily for university graduates in the STEM fields, the site also features a page you can find here for degree apprenticeships which are a fairly new alternative to university. You can filter out by employer and, although you can’t apply directly through the website, it does direct you to the employer’s website through which you would apply.

GetMyFirstJob is another great place to find apprenticeships as, unlike Gradcracker, it is not limited to STEM fields or degree level apprenticeships. They feature opportunities from top employers like Microsoft, PwC and Vodafone in a range of industries. You can fill out the form on their site here to get an idea of apprenticeships in your area or across the UK.

For an even broader search, you can try the usual job searching sites like Glassdoor and Indeed. For these, you can find the links to their websites here and here, respectively. Though these sites may not have specific filters for apprenticeships, typing apprenticeships into their search bar yields thousands of results.

Who can apply for an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships are open to any UK resident above the age of 16 who is not in full-time education. They are experience focussed and are intended to skill up those with minimal knowledge or qualifications.

Depending on the apprenticeship level and the qualifications you have, certain roles may be unavailable to you. For example, employers are barred from hiring apprentices with qualifications that are equivalent to or higher than the qualification they’d get at the end of the apprenticeship. So, if you have a degree in Computer Science, you can’t apply for a level 6 (or below) apprenticeship in a similar subject. For more on this, check out this governmental guide.

Should you apply for an apprenticeship?

As great as they can be, apprenticeships are not for everyone. School leaver apprenticeship applicants are the least likely to know exactly where to take their careers. If this is you, an apprenticeship might not be your best bet because they are a huge commitment.

You’ll be full immersed in the subject both theoretically with your studies and practically with your job. If you don’t have an interest in the subject, you will struggle and leaving an apprenticeship can be challenging, though not impossible.

If you are choosing to study an apprenticeship because you don’t want to continue education, an apprenticeship is not your only option. A gap year could be a good option for you if you’re unsure about what you want to do. You can find out the benefits of a gap year in this ThinkStudent article.

If you know for sure you want to go into an industry and like the idea of hands-on work, apprenticeships will provide you just that with a qualification on top. Not all industries offer apprenticeships. Here is a huge list by The Apprenticeship Guide that details the routes you can take with an apprenticeship.

What makes for a good apprenticeship?

You might be aware of the stereotypes around apprenticeships. Many people seem to think that they are just a way for employers to take advantage of apprentices and make them work long hours for a salary that’s lower than the minimum wage.

Although this may be true for some apprenticeships, most are decent opportunities. You just have to keep an eye out for the good signs. A good opportunity will be different for every applicant but some of the universal things are a decent wage, communication, development opportunities and avenues for feedback.

To expand on the communication point, this includes communication throughout your application process. A good employer will keep you updated and respond to questions in a reasonable amount of time. It sets the standard for the communication you can expect if you get the job.

Another aspect of a good apprenticeship is a buddy system for new joiners. You might be paired up with an apprentice who is a year or two ahead of you so they can help you out from the perspective of someone who has been through it.

Also, there should be clear ways for you to get feedback on your progress. Whether it is through monthly meetings with a manager or feedback reports, you should be well informed on what your targets are and what you need to do to reach them. Furthermore, the feedback should go both ways so you should be able to discuss with your employer improvements that could be made to the course.

What are the red flags when applying for an apprenticeship?

Now that you know some of the good things to look out for in an apprenticeship, you should be aware of the negatives, so you know what to avoid.

Starting with the job description, this is where companies should put their best foot forward. If the description is vague and leaves you with more questions than answers, it’s not a great sign. You should come away with a clear idea of what they want in a candidate and what the job can offer you.

In terms of wage, this of course will depend on your lifestyle. Someone who has no rent to pay and low commute costs will be able to live on a much lower wage than a person with an apartment and a car. However, as much as what is considered a “good” wage can vary, there are definitely some wages to avoid.

Another thing to keep an eye out for is reviews. There is a wealth of information you can glean from the comments previous or current apprentices make about a company. Sites like Glassdoor and RateMyApprenticeship, which you can find a link to here and here, are great for this. Of course, take what you see with a grain of salt but if there seems to be a common thread of the same complaints across several reviews, take note of it.

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