The Ultimate Guide to Apprenticeship Levels

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As someone who didn’t know much about apprenticeships when initially applying, I know how confusing all the terms and levels can be. With schools not advocating them as much as university and the internet being filled with overwhelming amounts of resources, the world of apprenticeships is tough to navigate. I understand the struggle and this article aims to clear things up for you in a simple, comprehensive guide to the apprenticeship levels.

To get a brief overview of what to expect while doing each level and a bit more detail on what they entail, read the rest of the article.

How many apprenticeship levels are there?

In the UK apprenticeships range from level 2 to 7. Level 2 is the lowest and 7 is the highest. These can be categorised into four groups. These are Intermediate, advanced, higher and degree. The table below demonstrates this.

  Level Equivalent education level
Intermediate 2 GCSE
Advanced 3 A-Level
Higher 4, 5, 6 and 7 Foundation degree and above
Degree 6 and 7 Bachelor’s or master’s degree

To find out more about apprenticeships, including how to apply, visit this GOV.UK website. You may also want to check out this Think Student article.

What is a Level 2 Apprenticeship?

A level 2 apprenticeship is classed as an Intermediate Apprenticeship and is the lowest level of apprenticeship available. It is the equivalent of 5 GCSE passes (grade 4 and above) and is primarily aimed at secondary school leavers aged 16. You typically do not need any formal qualifications to get this apprenticeship level. However, some employers may ask for GCSEs or a demonstration of basic English and Maths ability. For more information about Intermediate Apprenticeships, check out this guide by UCAS.

What is the structure of a Level 2 Apprenticeship?

The level 2 apprenticeship scheme combines work and study through professional qualifications and training providers. They typically take 12 to 18 months to complete and 20% of that time will be spent doing some form of training.

The training for a level 2 apprenticeship might occur online, at work, at a training provider or at a college. Some apprenticeships may even use a combination of all these methods to deliver the study time and it can be provided weekly, monthly or in blocks. The other 80% is spent at your place of work. This is where you will usually be supervised by a line manager or have an employee familiar with the work that you’re doing oversee you. For more information about what is involved in an Intermediate Apprenticeship, check out this article from RateMyApprenticeship.co.uk

The qualification you get after completing a level 2 apprenticeship depends on which one you do. It is usually either an NVQ (National Vocational Qualification) level 2 or BTEC level 2. If you’re not sure about what an NVQ is, you can find out more about them in this Think Student article. Similarly, for more information on BTECs, check out this Think Student article to get a definition.

Is a Level 2 Apprenticeship right for you?

As mentioned before, level 2 apprenticeships are aimed at 16-year-olds. However, there is no upper age limit so as long as you are aged above 16, you can apply.

A level 2 apprenticeship can be good for secondary school leavers who have a clear idea of what industry they want to go into and want a head start on their career. They offer the opportunity to get the hands-on experience you sometimes need to decide if a career is right for you.

They can also be useful for career changers who want to get a qualification under their belt that will make more roles available to them later on. As level 2 apprenticeships have fairly low requirements, they are much more accessible than trying to jump straight into a regular job in a completely new field.

What are your options after completing a Level 2 Apprenticeship?

After completing a level 2 apprenticeship, there are two major pathways you can take. One option is to apply for the next level of apprenticeship. This is a level 3 apprenticeship which you can do either within the company you did the level 2 apprenticeship in or elsewhere. The company you start with might not have an opening for level 3 apprentices so it is important to keep an eye out for other companies who might offer what you need.

You can also opt to use your qualification to apply for a regular job related to the work you’ve been doing. This might be easier if you’re applying within the company as they will already have experienced working with you and will have an idea about the standard you are able to perform to. You will have had the chance to get familiar with how the company operates and may already know other employees who are working in the role you want.

What is a Level 3 Apprenticeship?

Level 3 apprenticeships, also known as Advanced Apprenticeships, are the next step up from Intermediate apprenticeships. They are the equivalent to 2 A-Level passes and employers typically require applicants to have at least 5 GCSEs graded 4 and above. Like a level 2 apprenticeship, they are usually targeted to school leavers. For more information about Advanced Apprenticeships, check out this article by UCAS.

What is the structure of a Level 3 Apprenticeship?

A level 3 apprenticeship can last between 24 to 48 months, but the majority will be closer to the 2-year mark. There is actually very little difference between level 2 and level 3 apprenticeships in terms of structure. For more information about what is involved in an Advanced Apprenticeship, check out this article by Reed.co.uk.

You will spend 20% of your time training and working towards a qualification, usually an NVQ or BTEC Level 3. The other 80% is spent at work, in the industry related to the qualification you are studying towards. The industries available to level 3 apprentices are varied and include anything from engineering, to marketing, to construction.

Your training can also vary depending on the apprenticeship and qualification. For example, a construction apprentice’s training is likely going to include shadowing other workers and learning about safety rules through online resources. However, the training for a marketing apprentice might include a lot less shadowing and more online courses.

Is a Level 3 Apprenticeship right for you?

This level of apprenticeship is great for those with no experience or minimal qualifications to get the opportunity to break into an industry. As the entry requirements are typically quite low, it means that secondary school leavers or career changers are welcome to apply despite not having much knowledge about the field.

If you have a clear idea about where you want your career to go but lack the experience to apply for high level positions straight away, this level is ideal for you. Even if you are still unsure about where you see yourself career-wise, this level is still worth considering as it will give you a chance to feel what an industry is like.

What are your options after completing a Level 3 Apprenticeship?

Many level 3 apprentices enjoy their program and the company they did it with so, after completing, they tend to stay with them. It is not uncommon for managers to discuss potential permanent roles with their apprentices. However, it is important to consider other options and look for opportunities elsewhere if they are better for your development.

You could also use your qualification to apply for the next levels of apprenticeship. These are levels 4, 5 or 6. You could do this elsewhere or in the company you are currently at if they offer it.

What is a Level 4 Apprenticeship?

A level 4 apprenticeship is known under the category of Higher Apprenticeship along with a level 5 apprenticeship. Usually taking A-Levels or equivalents to apply, level 4 apprenticeships are the equivalent to gaining a Higher National Certificate (HNC) and can last from one to five years. They cover a wide range of industries and like other apprenticeships, combine professional work with study. For more information about a Higher Apprenticeship, check out this article by UCAS.

What is the structure of a Level 4 Apprenticeship?

As with other apprenticeships, 20% of your total time spent on the program will be dedicated to study or training. The other 80% is spent at a day job whether it’s in an office, a factory, outdoors or any location related to your industry.

This level of apprenticeship, like others, can operate on a day release or block release basis. A day release is the more common option which entails the apprentice carrying out the studying once a week and spending the other 4 days at work. The block release option is when the apprentice spends several days, weeks or months at a time studying for the qualification.

At the end of this apprenticeship level, the typical qualification given is a Level 4 NVQ or one given from a professional body. These are a testament to the skills you demonstrated across the program and provide evidence of the work you put in.

Is a Level 4 Apprenticeship right for you?

The level 4 apprenticeship is ideal for college or sixth form leavers, who are breaking into industries that don’t necessarily require full degrees to get into. They provide direct, quick access into a career without the length of a whole degree.

These benefits can equally be applied to career changers. Those of you with professional experience in a completely different industry still have a chance to enter a new one through level 4 apprenticeships. As the entry the requirements are fairly accessible, you won’t need to go get a degree to apply.

What are your options after completing a Level 4 Apprenticeship?

After completing a level 4 apprenticeship, you could go on to apply for a full degree at university. Apprenticeships tend to be quite specific so going to university can offer a broader perspective on a subject that may, in turn, broaden your horizons.

You could also apply for either of the next two levels up, 5 and 6, to get another free qualification while being paid. It may be worth discussing with your manager or supervisor a way for them to fund another apprenticeship for you if it is not already available within the company.

You could also go straight to full time employment with the experience you gained to pad out your CV and make you stand out to employers. You don’t need a degree to do everything and in fact, in some industries experience is favoured over degrees.

What is a Level 5 Apprenticeship?

A level 5 apprenticeship is also classed as a Higher Apprenticeship. As a level 5 qualification, it is equivalent to a Higher National Diploma (HND) or the first two years of a bachelor’s degree. For more level 5 equivalents, check out this governmental guide. It is not as high as degree level despite taking around as long to complete (2 to 4 years). It can also not be compared to A-Levels or equivalent due to its complexity. As well as the fact that they generally require those qualifications to apply.  For more information about a Higher Apprenticeship, check out this guide by UCAS.

What is the structure of a Level 5 Apprenticeship?

Like other apprenticeships, your time is split 80/20 between work and some form of training or study towards a qualification. The qualification earned differs depending on the apprenticeship, but an example would be a HND (Higher National Diploma). You can check out this article by Prospects which outlines what to expect from an HND.

Your training provider (i.e., the institution offering the qualification side) is typically either a college or university. They will be the ones creating the online resources you might use to study and if you had any problems with your qualification, you would go to them first.

The job side very much depends on the industry. Electrical engineer apprentices, for example, are more likely to be spending time on their feet than a graphic design apprentice who would be spending time in an office or working remotely in front of a screen.

Is a Level 5 Apprenticeship right for you?

A level 5 apprenticeship is good for those wanting to avoid the workload of a full degree but need a decent qualification that would get them similar opportunities along with experience. This apprenticeship level can provide a direct route into a career and can sometimes secure you a permanent position in a company.

If you are looking to develop hands-on skills that would be valued by employers in your industry, a level 5 apprenticeship might work for you. This is even more true if you are in an industry like electrical engineering or computer science where an entire degree isn’t necessarily needed.

What are your options after completing a Level 5 Apprenticeship?

As mentioned before, a level 5 apprenticeship can be considered as the first two years of degree. As a result, in some cases, a level 5 apprentice can enrol in a bachelor’s degree at the third year. You will have to discuss with the university to see if they facilitate this as some only allow for first year entry to certain courses.

You may choose to remain in the company that you did your apprenticeship with if they consider you to be a good enough candidate to keep on. This is why it is important to demonstrate your ability at work and, essentially, show off to ensure that your efforts are recognised. It will increase your chances of being offered to be kept on, especially if you are competing against many other apprentices in the company.

If your apprenticeship is in a field where a degree is useful, you could carry on to the next level of apprenticeships, level 6. You may even be able to complete a level 6 in a shorter amount of time as you will have knowledge from your level 5 that will overlap with what is taught at level 6.

What is a Level 6 Apprenticeship?

A level 6 apprenticeship is the first level of Degree Apprenticeship available. They are often considered as a viable alternative to university. This is because upon completion and while working, you get a degree at the end.

Entry requirements for this 3+ year course can vary from company to company. Most defer to the university to determine the requirements. This usually consists of 3 A-Levels graded C and above. The more competitive ones tend to have higher requirements. For more information about Degree Apprenticeships, check out this guide by UCAS.

What is the structure of a Level 6 Apprenticeship?

The phrase you often hear when talking about apprenticeships is “earn while you learn”. It applies to this level of apprenticeship, especially because of the qualification gained for free. While working a full-time job 80% of the time, your employer will pay for you to study a degree 20% of the time which you will pay no fees for.

One common misconception about level 6 apprenticeships is that the university side entails the apprentice physically going on-campus and attending lectures. While this may be true for some programs, especially ones that use the block release system, as explained above, much of the university side takes place through online lectures.

Level 6 apprentices usually have one day a week dedicated to completing the university modules associated with their course. The other 4 days will be spent with your employer doing full-time work as a normal employee.

Is a Level 6 Apprenticeship right for you?

As mentioned previously, level 6 apprenticeships are an alternative option to university, so it can be a great opportunity for those finishing A-Levels or an equivalent qualification. If you want a free degree while getting work experience, this level might be for you.

One thing to consider, though, is whether the qualification is necessary to enter the career you are aiming for. For example, in the technology space, having a degree is not as desired by employers as it was in the past. There is a chance that taking a shorter, lower-level apprenticeship in technology might get you the same job as if you were to take a level 6 apprenticeship.

Although the 3+ years of experience is an excellent benefit of this level along with the degree. It is important to think about if you really need it before investing such a large amount of time into it. If there’s an apprenticeship level of shorter duration that will get you to the same destination, it may be worth going down that route.

On the other hand, using the technology example again, graduate jobs in the industry are incredibly sought after and standing out from the thousands of university students will be challenging. However, the years of experience you’ll have under your belt will make you much more desirable to employers.

So, if you are entering a field that puts great importance on practical experience but still want the degree to get your foot in the door, this level is likely the right choice.

What are your options after completing a Level 6 Apprenticeship?

After completing your degree apprenticeship, one of the most popular options is to apply for graduate jobs. The main requirement for graduate jobs is simply to have recently graduated and completing a level 6 apprenticeship leaves you in that position.

If going for a graduate job afterwards, you should keep an eye out for positions before you complete your course. By the time you graduate, many opportunities will have opened and closed so it’s best to get in early to avoid disappointment.

Often after completing an apprenticeship, your manager will discuss next steps. This might involve a more permanent job offer within the company. If this is not the case, you can try to apply for other jobs within the industry or you may even consider asking if they would be open to funding a level 7 apprenticeship for you.

Some apprentices choose to take the experience they gained and use it to apply elsewhere. This might apply for those whose companies are not offering a role that they want. It’s important to consider better opportunities from other companies and not feel obligated to remain for the sake of it.

What is a Level 7 Apprenticeship?

A level 7 apprenticeship is the highest level available and gains you a master’s degree by the end of it. They can vary in length, being anywhere between 3 to 6 years. For more information about Degree Apprenticeships, check out this article by UCAS.

What is the structure of a Level 7 Apprenticeship?

A level 7 apprenticeship has the exact same structure as any other apprenticeship. Meaning that 80% of your time is dedicated to a day job while the rest is spent studying for your qualification.

One of the qualities of any apprenticeship is that you get the opportunity to put what you learn in your qualification into practice at work. Although your manager may try to set work based on your qualification, this becomes much more difficult at a master’s level due to how specific they can be.

The work you get will depend on business needs. Sometimes, that means it does not line up with what you are being taught at university. This does not mean that your work will be completely separate from university and that the structure of your work will not relate to the structure of your degree.

There will be opportunities to make use of the skills learnt at university during the 4 other days of the week that you are working. Whether you are an accounting apprentice applying a university module about auditing to a new client or a data science apprentice applying a new coding language from university to a data set at work, your skills will be put to use.

Is a Level 7 Apprenticeship right for you?

A person doing this level of apprenticeship has to have a deep interest in the field they’re learning about. You are going to be fully immersed in your chosen industry both on an academic front with the university work and a practical front with the job. A passion for learning is going to be essential, perhaps more so than other levels due to the intensity of a masters.

You should also consider where the qualification will leave you after completing it. It is not uncommon for graduates to jump straight into a masters as a result of being unsure about what direction to take their career or not yet wanting to enter the “real world” immediately.

However, when it comes to an apprenticeship, it’s not just a degree you’re taking on. The stress of juggling a degree and a job may not be worth applying for a level 7 apprenticeship just for the sake of it. This is also why a passion for the subject is such an important factor when deciding if this is right for you.

What are your options after completing a Level 7 Apprenticeship?

You could discuss with your manager or supervisor about a permanent position within the company. They will have gotten used to your work ethic and ability by now, so that might help you be considered for a role over a completely new candidate.

If you are very passionate about the topic you have studied, you may also want to look into doing a PhD. You could potentially have your studies funded by the company you work at, and your degree associated with the university you did your apprenticeship at. It is very important to think carefully about this choice. However, as it entails a lot of work and research that may perhaps lead to a disinterest in the subject.

Another option is to leave the company and apply elsewhere with the experience you gained to make you stand out from other applicants. You will have much more capability than an applicant with a master’s degree who did a placement year and employers will notice this.

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