What are trade apprenticeships and how do they work?

Updated 24 January 2023

Taking an apprenticeship is a popular route to learning a trade. Apprenticeships cover many skills, with opportunities to work in fields such as the construction industry. If you're interested in working in a trade, such as plumbing, plastering or bricklaying, you may find that an apprenticeship is the best route for you since you earn money while learning new skills. In this article, we discover what trade apprenticeships are, the benefits of such apprenticeships, their levels and qualifications and other frequently asked questions to help you decide if this is the right pathway for you.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

What are trade apprenticeships?

Trade apprenticeships are programmes which combine a college education with on-the-job training. Working in a trade requires manual skills along with specialist knowledge. Choosing an apprenticeship helps you learn the skills you need by working alongside professional tradespeople and, at the same time, taking a vocational course.

The construction industry provides many opportunities for these types of apprenticeships. Tradespeople, such as electricians, builders or joiners, may provide an apprenticeship to share their knowledge and train a new team member. This career path offers the chance to gain valuable first-hand knowledge and experience while earning a wage.

Related: Types of apprenticeships for 16-year-olds and how to apply

What are the benefits of taking an apprenticeship in a trade?

Taking an apprenticeship as a route into working in a trade has many advantages. Here are some of the main benefits:

  • Earning money while learning: Apprenticeships pay a wage for you to study and gain experience. The hourly rate depends on your age and a few other factors, such as how far along you are on your apprenticeship.

  • Receiving a qualification: This type of programme provides a nationally recognised qualification. Some qualifications are valid internationally and equip you to work in your trade in other countries.

  • Gaining hands-on experience: You learn valuable practical skills by working alongside experienced staff, who teach you the latest techniques and knowledge.

  • Enjoying the same rights as full employees: Apprentices are entitled to the same working conditions as full employees, such as regular breaks, Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and the right to request flexible working. They also have the right to receive at least 11 hours of rest between finishing work in the evening and starting work the following day.

Related: What is the average apprenticeship salary? (Plus definition)

What levels of apprenticeship are available?

Trade and construction apprenticeships are available at several different levels. These include:


Also known as a Level 2 apprenticeship, this is equivalent to GCSEs. As an alternative to staying on at school, a Level 2 apprenticeship allows 16-year-old school leavers to study for a qualification such as a BTEC. You may also re-sit maths and English if you didn't pass these subjects already.

Related: How do apprenticeships work? Including levels and types


An advanced apprenticeship, also known as a Level 3 apprenticeship, is the equivalent of two A-levels. These types of apprenticeships are the next stage after an intermediate programme and are available to you if you've already gained your GCSEs. For this type of apprenticeship, you spend 20% of your time at college or with a training provider and may complete your apprenticeship with a BTEC diploma.


Higher apprenticeships are Levels 4 to 7, which are equivalent to a foundation degree. The higher apprenticeship allows you to study towards a Higher National Diploma (HND), which you may use to study for a bachelor's degree. At this level, you study part-time at college or university while gaining work experience in your chosen trade.


Levels 6 and 7 are degree apprenticeships, with Level 6 being the equivalent of a bachelor's degree and Level 7 being the equivalent of a master's degree. You may take a degree apprenticeship after your higher-level course, which involves going to university while also working in your chosen trade. This type of qualification takes between three and six years to complete.

Related: 10 best-paid apprenticeships and job opportunities resulting from apprenticeships

What different types of apprenticeships for trades are there?

These types of apprenticeships cover many different skills. Some of the main trades you may pursue on these programmes include:

Electrician apprenticeships

An electrician apprenticeship provides you with the training and work experience to start working as an electrician. Starting on an intermediate or Level 2 apprenticeship, you may progress to an advanced level to learn the skills to work in building services installation or maintenance. Level 4 provides an electrical engineer apprenticeship, which teaches skills such as electricity network design and engineering.

Bricklaying apprenticeships

Becoming an apprentice bricklayer provides you with sought-after skills and many opportunities to work in construction, house building and property maintenance. You may start a bricklaying apprenticeship at Level 2 without any previous experience. This qualification teaches you how to lay bricks, use a trowel and construct walls and arches before teaching you how to build houses and other structures.

Related: How to become a builder (job description and salary info)

Plumbing apprenticeships

As an apprentice plumber, a mentor may teach you essential plumbing skills alongside a college course. After a few months, you may start to work on simple plumbing tasks such as changing fittings, unblocking drains and installing household appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers. On a Level 2 plumbing apprenticeship, you may earn a City & Guilds NVQ.

Plastering apprenticeships

The construction industry requires a steady supply of plasterers, so this is a good trade to learn while on the job. Training includes learning how to apply plaster to solid and fibrous backgrounds, obtain a smooth finish, dry-line and join different areas. An intermediate Level 2 plastering apprenticeship may lead to an NVQ and a BTEC diploma.

Carpentry and joinery apprenticeships

A Level 2 apprenticeship in carpentry and joinery takes up to two years and enables you to learn the skills to work as a joiner. These skills include measuring, mitring, horizontal and vertical levelling, fitting, splicing and scribing. Most apprenticeships include one day at college per week, where you learn skills such as how to interpret drawings and designs from computer-aided design (CAD).

Related: How to become a joiner (plus skills and responsibilities)

Roofing apprenticeships

A Level 2 roofing apprenticeship typically lasts 18 to 24 months. Learning the roofing trade involves installing and measuring roofing materials, repairing tiles, fitting new roofs to public buildings such as health centres and schools, working on housing projects and interpreting drawings. Apprentice roofers learn a range of skills, from health and safety training and how to work safely at height to techniques for moving and storing materials and the principles of condensation.

Related: How to become a roofer apprentice: a step-by-step guide

Where might you find apprenticeships to learn a trade?

A range of apprenticeships are available in construction, and some traditional trades and construction organisations provide their own programmes, which you may find through job listings. You may also find apprenticeships through the National Careers Service or Gov.UK. Construction apprenticeships are also available through the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB).

What might you do with an apprenticeship?

Once you've completed your apprenticeship and gained your qualification and experience, there are several options open to you, including:

Find a permanent job

Many apprentices stay with the employer who provided the apprenticeship. After completing your apprenticeship, you may receive an offer for a higher-paid role within the organisation. Alternatively, you may look for a job with a different employer within your trade.

Set up your own business

Once you've completed an apprenticeship in your chosen trade, you may decide to become self-employed. Working for yourself has many advantages, including more flexibility and the ability to work on several projects simultaneously. Being self-employed also carries risks and challenges, such as learning bookkeeping skills, adhering to industry regulations and working out where to find your clients.

Start a new apprenticeship

You may decide to take the next level of apprenticeship and sign up for another 18 to 24 months for more training and work experience. If you completed a higher-level apprenticeship, you might apply for a degree apprenticeship. If you have a degree apprenticeship, you might consider completing a master's degree.

Go to university

Once you have an advanced (Level 3) apprenticeship, you may apply to study for a foundation degree. You're entitled to apply for student finance since taking an apprenticeship doesn't impact your eligibility for a student loan. You may decide to study for a degree in a related subject or choose an alternative career path.

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