Employing an apprentice

Article reference: UK-IA-EMP37
Last updated: March 2023 | 5 min read

An apprenticeship is on-the-job, vocational training, where an unskilled worker learns a trade.

In 1993, the government introduced a scheme branded 'Modern Apprenticeships' offering financial support to an employer who agreed to train his staff within a framework that would lead to the employee achieving nationally recognised qualifications. In 2004, Modern Apprenticeships were re-branded 'Apprenticeships'.

Any apprenticeship should be undertaken in association with the National Apprenticeship Service, (NAS). Frameworks for the different qualifications are designed by the Sector Skills Councils, working with the relevant industry sector.

Depending on the sector and job role, an apprenticeship can take between one and four years to complete.

You can use the apprenticeship scheme to train both new and existing employees of any age, although most apprentices are young workers in a first job.

The advantage of taking on an apprentice as against a normal employee in a training scheme is that the costs of training are typically lower than through other training programmes.

How does apprenticeship differ from my employee training scheme?

An apprenticeship is differentiated from other employment because the contract and operation are subject to the terms of the regulations and operated under the auspices of the NAS. You cannot set up your own training scheme and call it an apprenticeship.

An apprentice requires a standard contract of employment. All employment law and regulations apply as they would do to any other employee. There are no concessions to an employer.

All employment law is regulated by both employment tribunals system and by contract law, enforced by the main courts system. Employees usually choose the tribunal system because their rights under that system are greater. But an apprenticeship is a contract. What may be acceptable under the tribunal may be a breach of contract, actionable in court. The most obvious place to watch is redundancy, where the tribunal system may not apply but where a breach of the fixed term of an apprenticeship contract could lead to a claim for damages.

Another area of potential breach of contract is a failure to comply with the agreed provision of training.

Costs and funding

An apprentice may cost you less than some other young employee. The starting point is that most workers in the UK over school leaving age are entitled to be paid at least the National Minimum Wage (NMW). That includes an apprentice. You can't claim that because you are offering work experience or training you may pay less.

Funding is uncertain. Money is available for training schemes, but not as a contribution to the wages of the apprentice. Briefly, funding for training and some other costs is up to 100% if the worker is between 16 and 18 years of age, and up to 50% if between 19 and 24.

Government funding comes from the Skills Funding Agency (SFA). This covers the full cost of the mandatory training required to complete the framework as determined by the relevant SSC for a young person aged 16-18 on an apprenticeship.

If an employer chooses to deliver additional qualifications or courses as part of the delivery of the overall framework then these courses will not be funded. The cost must therefore be paid by the employer.

A further cost to te employer is the cost of the supervision, support and mentoring inevitably required to support the apprentice.

The Skills Funding Agency is part of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills. They are more concerned to provide funding to educational organisations than to industry. They say:

Money is paid directly to the organisation that provides and supports the apprenticeship; in most cases this will be a learning provider. Large employers with a direct contract with the National apprenticeship Service may receive the funding themselves.

Our role in skills is to ensure that people and businesses can access the skills training they need to succeed in playing their part in society and in growing England's economy. At the heart of this are the colleges and learning organisations we work with, and this area is designed to provide all the information needed to deliver the learning and training successfully.

The bottom line is that when dealing with an apprentice, you are dealing with the government.

If your apprentices are between 16 and 19, some additional costs may be met by the Education Funding Agency from (1 April 2012).

Training and employment

As apprenticeships are work-based training programmes, most of the training is on the job - at your premises. The rest can be provided by a local college or by a specialist learning provider, or you could deliver everything yourself.

As the employer you must give your apprentices an induction into their role and provide on-the-job training.

Employment must be for at least 30 hours per week, except in the minority of circumstances where the learner cannot complete the full 30 hours. In these cases employment must be for more than 16 hours per week.

A learning provider is usually a local college or specialist training organisation responsible for an apprentice's off-the-job training.

A learning provider will provide an employer representative who will be able to support and guide you. They will work with you to:

  • help you decide which apprenticeship is right for you
  • explain the way that apprenticeships might work for you and if funding is available
  • agree a training plan with your apprentice
  • recruit an apprentice or support your existing staff into apprenticeships
  • manage the training and evaluation
  • ensure that national quality standards are met and deliver integrated, coherent training

Useful documents

Net Lawman offers a collection of employment contract templates, including an apprenticeship agreement that complies with the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 and that is suitable for employing apprentices under the National Apprenticeship Scheme.

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