What Are Higher Level Apprenticeships?

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The world of apprenticeships is probably unfamiliar to a lot of students, which is not surprising, as higher education (i.e., university) is still a popular choice for most students in the UK. However, apprenticeships are becoming increasingly popular, and in fact, there are many different levels to apprenticeships – these depend on what qualifications you already have, and what qualifications you want to earn. However, where exactly do higher apprenticeships fit into this chain?

Higher level apprenticeships encompass levels 4 and 5 of the different levels of apprenticeships. They are equivalent to a foundation degree or above, and take anywhere from two to four years to complete. A higher apprenticeship follows the same format as most apprenticeships: most of your time will be spent in practical training. Higher apprenticeships are available in over forty different major industries.

Don’t worry if all isn’t clear just yet. This article is here to explain what higher level apprenticeships are, what qualifications you need for them and what you can gain from them, as well as which higher apprenticeships are best!

What is an apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship, according to this page of the government website, is “a paid job where the employee learns and gains valuable experiences.”

This means that unlike a university degree, for which you sit exams, apprenticeships are more about practical experience.

The government website also says: “Alongside on-the-job training, apprentices spend at least 20% of their working hours completing classroom-based learning with a college, university or training provider which leads to a nationally recognised qualification.”

An apprenticeship might be a good idea for someone who isn’t interested in pursuing further or higher education (college or university).

Apprenticeships don’t always guarantee a job in the workplace you did your apprenticeship in. However, they’re still a great way to gain key work experience that’ll make your CV more competitive.

Unlike higher education, there are no tuition fees for an apprenticeship; it is funded by the government and the employer whose workplace you’ll be trained in.

There are different levels to apprenticeships, including higher level apprenticeships, which I’ll be talking about in this article.

For the rundown of all you need to know about apprenticeships in general, I’d recommend this Think Student article.

What are the different kinds of apprenticeships?

As mentioned earlier in the article, there are 4 different types of apprenticeship.

The different types of apprenticeships are:

  • Level 2: Intermediate apprenticeship
  • Level 3: Advanced apprenticeship
  • Level 4-5: Higher apprenticeship
  • Level 6-7: Degree apprenticeship

If you want to read more about the different levels of apprenticeships, I’d recommend checking out this guide by Think Student.

The reason why there are different levels of apprenticeships is because you need different qualifications to apply for them, and will receive different qualifications for completing them.

Similarly, you may want to take an apprenticeship for a different reason to somebody else!

The different levels of apprenticeships also have their own education qualification equivalent.

You can see these in the table below:

Level of apprenticeship Education qualification equivalent
Intermediate GCSE
Advanced A-Level
Higher Higher national certificate (HNC) or above
Degree Bachelor’s or master’s degree

If you’d like to know more about the qualification equivalents of apprenticeship levels, this Think Student article has the information you need.

Remember, an apprenticeship is a qualification in its own right! However, if you are looking into an apprenticeship because of a specific qualification requirement, it is worth knowing which apprenticeship level is right for you.

What is a higher-level apprenticeship?

In the list above, you will see that a higher apprenticeship encompasses both apprenticeship levels 4 and 5. This is because the qualifications you can achieve from a higher apprenticeship differ depending on the level.

For a level 4 higher apprenticeship, you will receive a qualification equivalent to that of the first year of an undergraduate degree (or a Higher National Certificate).

For a level 5 higher apprenticeship, you will receive a qualification equivalent to that of a foundation degree (or a Higher National Diploma).

To get started, I’d recommend checking out this UCAS page on higher apprenticeships.

A higher apprenticeship follows the same format as most apprenticeships: most of your time will be spent in practical training. You will also complete mandatory study with your college or training provider.

Apprenticeships also have a final assessment, but these are very different to exams students have to sit for their degrees. The assessment is just to check that you can correctly perform your job, and you will receive your qualification after completing it!

According to UCAS, it takes 2-5 years to complete a higher apprenticeship.

What qualifications do you need for a higher apprenticeship?

There are a few requirements to be able to study a higher-level apprenticeship.

The basic requirements are:

  • You must be 18 years of age or older
  • You must have a Level 3 qualification (whether this is A-Levels or equivalent)
  • You must have at least 5 GCSEs at grade 4 or more, including the ‘core’ GCSEs (English Language and Maths)

Aside from these requirements, employers may set specific requirements, so it is always best to check with the company before applying.

This Indeed article has more information on the entry requirements for higher apprenticeships, so check it out if you need some additional information.

If you do not meet the criteria listed above, it may still be possible to be qualified for a higher apprenticeship.

For example, if you already have relevant experience in the field of your apprenticeship, you may be allowed to still complete it – this is not a given, so it’s better to meet those requirements if you can!

Furthermore, if you are using an apprenticeship programme as retraining for your field, then you may be accepted onto the programme even if you don’t meet all the requirements.

However, these are all circumstantial, so it’s best to check with your employer beforehand.

What should you expect from a higher-level apprenticeship?

Higher apprenticeships, like other apprenticeships, combine workplace training and classroom study.

Higher apprenticeships can last between 2 to 5 years, as I mentioned earlier. Since the qualifications you’ll receive from a higher apprenticeship are more valuable than other apprenticeships, it makes sense that it would take much longer to complete.

Higher apprenticeships are available in over 40 different major industries, so what you can expect to be doing will vary greatly between them.

In a typical week, you will spend most of your time in the workplace completing hands-on training. However, you will also have time blocked out during the week (agreed in advance with your employer) to focus on your studies.

You may also have additional training in IT skills, included as part of your studies and provided by your study centre, but this is usually optional.

A huge bonus of higher-level apprenticeships is not only that you have the opportunity to earn money alongside your studies. You can also expand your skills and knowledge across several areas.

What is the difference between a degree apprenticeship and a higher apprenticeship?

There are several differences between a degree apprenticeship and a higher apprenticeship.

The first and biggest difference between them is that higher apprenticeships range from levels 4 to 7, and are equivalent to a foundation degree or higher.

On the other hand, degree apprenticeships are only available at levels 6 and 7 and are equivalent to a bachelor’s degree and master’s respectively.

To read more about the difference in level and qualification equivalents between degree and higher apprenticeships, check out this page of the government website.

Another difference between degree apprenticeships and higher apprenticeships is that the field of degree apprenticeships is a lot smaller.

Degree apprenticeships were only introduced by the government in 2015, so the range of companies and fields that offer them is a lot smaller than for higher apprenticeships. Therefore, if you are interested in an apprenticeship in a particularly niche field, it’s probably better to go for a higher apprenticeship. If you’d like to see more about this, I’d recommend checking out this article by Sheffield Hallam University.

Another difference between higher and degree apprenticeships is that the skills you’ll acquire from a degree apprenticeship are slightly more advanced than that of a higher apprenticeship.

Degree apprenticeships include higher and vocational education as well as testing workplace competence and academic learning.

Conversely, higher apprenticeships mostly test functional skills and knowledge to a lesser extent than degree apprenticeships.

Do higher level apprenticeships pay well?

Yes, higher level apprenticeships pay a fair amount considering you can start them from the age of 18 upwards.

As reported by UCAS on this page, £19,319 is the average salary of an apprentice. Not only that, but 90% of apprentices stay in employment after their apprenticeship.

Not only is almost £20,000 a really good salary for young apprentices, but the high percentage of apprentices that stay in employment means it’s unlikely you’ll face economic insecurity as an apprentice.

Naturally, it takes lots of time and experience to build up to earning a high wage, so you won’t be able to do this straight after completing your apprenticeship.

However, consistent employment on a fairly decent salary is a perfect way to start building up that time and experience to eventually earn more.

Moreover, apprenticeships are usually in up-and-coming fields of work, which means there will probably be high demand for people trained in the sector of your apprenticeship.

This means that you’ll have plenty of job prospects after completing your apprenticeship.

What are the best higher-level apprenticeships?

On this page of the Prospects website, there is a list of the best-paying apprenticeships, which are:

  1. Law apprenticeships
  2. Accounting apprenticeships
  3. Banking apprenticeships
  4. Engineering apprenticeships
  5. IT apprenticeships.

These are some of the best higher level apprenticeships not only because they pay well during and after the apprenticeship, but because job prospects are high in these fields.

Completing an apprenticeship in any of the fields above means you will have been trained in and developed skills for fields that are in high demand.

Furthermore, a lot of the skills for the fields listed above are transferrable, meaning that even if there isn’t high demand in your particular field, you may be able to secure a job in a different field to what you trained in.

Similarly, Indeed lists the top 5 best-paying apprenticeships on this page of their website, which are:

  1. IT apprenticeships
  2. Carpentry apprenticeships
  3. Electrician apprenticeships
  4. Engineering apprenticeships
  5. Management apprenticeships

As you can see, there is some overlap, with IT and engineering apprenticeships.

Therefore, apprenticeships in any of the fields included in either list seem to be the best higher level apprenticeships to complete.

Is a higher-level apprenticeship worth doing?

Of course, this is a very personal question, so whether you think a higher level apprenticeship is worth doing or not is really up to you.

However, there are certainly several benefits to completing a higher level apprenticeship.

If you would like to prioritise gaining hands-on experience in a workplace in a relevant field, then a higher level apprenticeship will probably be more valuable to you than something like a foundation degree.

Another big benefit to higher level apprenticeships is that you can start them from the age of 18 upwards. This means that you won’t need to already have a huge amount of experience outside of education to be eligible to start.

Before you apply for an apprenticeship, it is worth considering what best suits your goals for a few years’ time. Do you want to mostly focus on practical training and complete an apprenticeship within a few years?

If you’d like some help in applying for an apprenticeship, I’d recommend checking out this Think Student article.

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