Higher apprenticeships: Everything you need to know

Updated 18 September 2023

Higher apprenticeships provide you with the opportunity to earn while learning the professional skills and experience of a specific field. Employers use higher apprenticeships to train candidates for specific roles or positions in their organisation. Completing this programme can equip you with key skills and knowledge to deliver on the job, provide a pathway to permanent employment and improve your employability. In this article, we discuss everything you need to know about higher apprenticeships, including eligibility requirements, benefits and how these programmes work.

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What are higher apprenticeships?

A higher apprenticeship is a full-time job that includes studying. The study can be at a college, a university, the office, through distance learning or online. Like all apprenticeships, this programme allows you to receive a salary while the employer and the government cover the expenses of your education and training. Unlike advanced apprenticeships, higher apprenticeships are for people who are committed to a particular career path, as employers use them to train people for specific roles in their organisation.

Most candidates who complete higher apprenticeships are awarded Level 4 or 5 qualifications. The qualification is equivalent to a foundation degree, a higher national diploma or a higher education certificate. Most times, higher apprentices provide a pathway to degree apprenticeships which offer Level 6 or 7 credentials, equivalent to bachelor or postgraduate degree qualifications.

Higher apprenticeships are an ideal route into several industries. They are also desirable because most candidates usually get a permanent job after completing the programme. Even if you don't get recruited, the training and skills gained during the programme provide a significant boost to your employability in your chosen industry.

Related: What is an apprenticeship after A-levels? (With benefits)

What can I study in higher apprenticeships?

Higher apprenticeships offer career pathways into several industries. You can apply for higher apprenticeships in industries such as construction, engineering and manufacturing, agriculture, education, science, public services and business. Higher apprenticeships are also available for law, media, health and information and communication technology, publishing, the built environment, commercial enterprise, arts, fashion and textiles and digital marketing. Thanks to its popularity among employers and professionals, the number of industries with higher apprenticeships will likely increase in the near future as the government increases its investment in the career pathway.

Related: What are engineering apprenticeships?

What are the eligibility requirements for higher apprenticeships?

The requirements for a higher apprenticeship typically depend on the industry and the employer. However, basic entry requirements include Level 3 qualifications such as A Levels or equivalent and at least five GCSE grades including Maths and English. Besides academic qualifications, you need to be 18 or above to apply for higher apprenticeships. This makes the programme ideal for students who have completed their GCSEs and advanced or intermediate apprenticeships.

Related: GCSE equivalent qualifications

Note that these qualifications might not be enough to enrol, as there is stiff competition for higher apprenticeships due to limited vacancies. Higher apprenticeships are favourites of school and college leavers and existing employees looking to use them to advance their careers. So when applying, you want to include any industry experience or academic credentials that can increase your chances of getting the apprenticeship.

How do higher apprenticeships work?

Higher apprenticeships are structured like every other apprenticeship scheme. The programme is designed to deliver academic learning and occupational competencies to apprentices. However, the method of delivery can vary across industries and employers.

In most sectors, employers collaborate with industry bodies and training providers to design courses that provide apprentices with role-specific on-the-job training and academic learning. With this method, the apprentice receives integrated learning that requires no occupational competence tests at the end of the scheme.

In other sectors, the academic and on-the-job components of the apprenticeship are separate. With this approach, apprentices need to complete an occupational competence assessment when they finish the programme.

Higher apprenticeships require you to complete at least 30 hours per week for a minimum of 30 weeks per year. You may use one day of the week for studying with the training provider or get two-week study breaks at different times of the year.

Related: How do apprenticeships work? Including levels and types

How long do higher apprenticeships last?

Higher apprenticeships can last from one to five years, depending on the industry and the employer. You can choose a longer programme if you intend to complete the apprenticeship on a part-time basis. Typically your employer determines the duration of the programme, although apprenticeships typically allow for more flexible timelines compared to regular educational routes.

What is the difference between higher apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships?

Higher apprenticeships allow apprentices to earn Level 4 or 5 qualifications while degree apprenticeships offer Level 6 or 7 credentials. While higher apprenticeships are equivalent to a higher national diploma, higher education certificate or foundation degree, a degree apprenticeship is equivalent to graduate or postgraduate education. You need to complete a higher apprenticeship to get into a degree apprenticeship.

Both programmes test vocational and higher education and workplace competence, but the degree apprenticeship provides more rigorous studies and particularly trains candidates for higher roles in an organisation. While the minimum time for both apprenticeships is one year, degree apprenticeships tend to last longer. Despite offering higher professional and academic credentials, the government and employers pay for the costs of degree apprenticeships, just like lower-level schemes.

What are the benefits of higher apprenticeships?

Higher apprenticeships are becoming the preferred talent acquisition and development programme for the government and many employers, thanks to their many benefits. Here are reasons to consider a higher apprenticeship:

  • On-the-job training. Higher apprenticeships provide vital hands-on training to help you learn the skills to perform effectively on the job.

  • Guaranteed pay. One benefit of higher apprenticeships is that they pay you a wage throughout the programme. This makes it easier to concentrate on learning the core skills and competencies of your chosen profession.

  • No fees. The government and your employer cover the costs of your academic studies and on-the-job training. This means you won't owe student debts after your studies. However, you will still need to cover your living expenses such as rent and other miscellaneous bills.

  • Improves chances of employment. Most people who complete a higher apprenticeship get a permanent job from their employer. Even if you are not recruited, the programme gives you a significant head start in your chosen industry.

  • Career advancement. Many existing employees use higher apprenticeships to improve their career progression opportunities.

  • Access to diverse industries. With provisions for over 40 industries and counting, higher apprenticeships have become one of the surest ways to enter a wide range of careers. These schemes provide eligible candidates with a quick way to gain the core skills and academic credentials to start their ideal profession.

  • Education. Higher apprenticeships allow you to earn a foundation degree or the equivalent. People who complete the program also qualify for higher educational qualifications by joining a degree apprenticeship or traditional programmes.

  • Work-life balance. Higher apprenticeships provide an ideal balance between work and study. Most programmes also allow you to study and learn at your own pace.

  • Role-specific training. Higher apprenticeships provide training and academic instruction for a specific role within a particular field. This provides you with all the skills and experience you need to start a job immediately and increase your employability.

Related: 16 Part-time jobs that pay well

How to get higher apprenticeships

If you want to apply for a higher apprenticeship, it is important to choose one that is suitable for your professional goals and qualifications. Follow these steps to enrol in your chosen higher apprenticeship:

  1. Find a higher apprenticeship for your industry. The first step is to look for higher apprenticeships that align with your career choices, duration and location. Indeed.co.uk provides a powerful tool for finding a wide range of higher apprenticeships in different industries.

  2. Meet the eligibility requirements. While eligibility requirements depend on industry, you need to have at least Level 3 qualifications such as A Levels, Cambridge Nationals and BTECs. Employers may consider candidates who have completed intermediate and advanced apprenticeships. You must also meet the age requirement, 18 or older, to qualify.

  3. Apply for apprenticeship. Once you've determined your eligibility for a higher apprenticeship, apply through the company or a career website. Considering the tough competition for higher apprenticeships, it is advisable to put a lot of effort into your application to stand out from other applicants.

Read more: Guide: Using Indeed.co.uk job search

Who should apply for higher apprenticeships?

Higher apprenticeships are best for people who are looking to build a career in a specific industry. The programme is ideal for people who enjoy learning by practice because it is structured to provide you with on-the-job training. The scheme is often more flexible and employers allow apprentices to complete it at their own pace. This requires judicious time management and discipline. Higher apprenticeships require dedication and hard work, but they are also rewarding as you get a debt-free education and almost guaranteed employment on completion.

This article is based on information available at the time of writing, which may change at any time. Indeed does not guarantee that this information is always up-to-date. Please seek out a local resource for the latest on this topic.

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