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What is an Apprenticeship?

In Northern Ireland the flagship programme for Apprenticeships is known as ApprenticeshipsNI and is funded by the Department for the Economy.

An Apprenticeship is a real job with practical hands on experience, a wage and a chance to train and gain for qualifications while you work.

As an apprentice you are treated just like other employees with a contract of employment, a wage and holiday leave entitlement.

Apprenticeships in NI are currently available at Level 2 and Level 3 and Higher Level Apprenticeships from Level 4 upwards. Currently there are around 150 Level 2 and Level 3 apprenticeships and over 45 Higher Level Apprenticeships to choose from.

Level 2 is the first level and the one which most Apprentices choose. You can either progress from Level 2 to Level 3 or commence at Level 3 depending on your ability and qualifications achieved.

An apprentice who has already gained significant work experience in their occupational area, which could be considered as meeting the requirements of the relevant Level 2 framework, and who also demonstrates the capacity to achieve a Level 3 standard, may seek an exemption from the completion of a Level 2 framework and request direct entry onto a Level 3 framework.

How long does it take to complete an Apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships usually take between 2 and 4 years to complete. This will depend on the type of Apprenticeship and qualifications you are working towards. The duration of the Apprenticeship depends on the course being followed and the ability of the individual Apprentice. As a guide a Level 2 and Level 3 Apprenticeship usually takes around 2 years with some exceptions. 

Who can join an Apprenticeship?

  • Apprentices must be aged 16 or over.  There is no upper age limit, which means you can start an apprenticeship at any stage of your career. 
  • Potential apprentices can be existing or new employees including graduates.
  • An existing employee must be in a new job that requires a substantial amount of learning and skills development.
  • A new employee in (or about to take up) a permanent paid employment offer.
  • You must be employed by a company that has a base in Northern Ireland and is registered as an employer with HMRC and be contracted to work a minimum of 21 hours per week with one employer.
  • Day release to College to undertake directed training must be paid as part of the apprentice’s contracted hours.
  • You must have the potential to successfully complete all the requirements of the Level 2 or Level 3 apprenticeship framework.
  • You must meet any health requirements (e.g. Colour Vision) specific to the occupation you select e.g Electrical Installation. 
  • You must have achieved any necessary entry academic qualifications (GCSEs and /or Essential Skills) determined by the relevant sector for the apprenticeship.
  • A Graduate is defined as a person who has obtained a degree, a Higher National Diploma, a Diploma in Higher Education, or an equivalent qualification awarded by a recognised University or other Institute of Higher or Further Education. Graduates may only enter ApprenticeshipsNI provision in an occupational area that is unrelated to their qualification subject.

Apprentices from third countries (including EU, EEA and Swiss Nationals)

Third country nationals, including European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA) and Swiss Nationals and their family members, are eligible to undertake a Level 2 or Level 3 apprenticeship provided they have a right to live and work in the UK. For example, through;

  • Having secured settled status in the UK with the appropriate visa/permit.
  • Having indefinite leave to enter or remain in the UK.
  • Having been recognised as a refugee by the UK Government, or the spouse or civil partner or child of a refugee, or having been granted Humanitarian Protection, or having EU Temporary Protection with evidence/permit to show their status and eligibility to work in the UK.
  • Relying on their rights under the Withdrawal Agreement during the “grace period” (1 January 2021 to 30 June 2021) or until their application under the EU Settlement Scheme is complete.
  • Having secured pre-settled or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.
  • Acquiring the right to live and work under the UK’s new immigration system effective from 1 January 2021.

Legal responsibility for establishing that the apprentice has a right to live and work in the UK rests with the employer

Under the Common Travel Area arrangements, Republic of Ireland (RoI) nationals (including those who continue to reside in the RoI) are eligible to undertake a Level 2 or Level 3 apprenticeship subject to satisfying all other eligibility criteria.

Ineligible Participants

The following are not eligible to enter an ApprenticeshipsNI 2021 funded Level 2 or Level 3 apprenticeship:

  • A person taking up, or already in, a self-employment opportunity.  This includes apprentices whose employers have taken them on under the Construction Industry (CIS) Scheme.
  • A public sector employee (the public sector includes all enterprises and activities owned and/or funded by the government. Employees of charities are excluded from this definition, subject to compliance with Contractors must ensure that public sector employees are not enrolled on the ApprenticeshipsNI 2021 programme).
  • A non-EU national who is subject to employment restrictions and/or a time limit on their stay in Northern Ireland at the time of application to enter training (this information can be obtained by checking the client’s passport/visa/permit).
  • A person for whom the employer is in receipt of financial support from any other Government Department budget or programme.
  • A person following a full-time course of study in either Further or Higher Education.
  • A person employed by a company that does not have a base in Northern Ireland or Great Britain.

What is the entry criteria for an Apprenticeship?

If you search for your relevant course on our website, using the course search facility, entry requirements are included within each course specific page.

My child is great with their hands so doesn't need to complete Level 2 and will be joining at Level 3 but there is no option to apply for Level 3

Apprenticeships start at level 2 except for Civil Engineering and Electrical Installation.  You can apply to all our Level 3 courses via our website, search for Level 3.

What qualifications will I gain through an Apprenticeship?

An Apprenticeship is essentially a set of qualifications called Framework developed by sectoral partnerships and relevant industry-led representative bodies. These Frameworks specify the standards which the apprentice must complete. Each framework includes the following basic elements:

Knowledge Based Qualification (KBQ)

Some apprenticeships will include an individual KBQ (also known as a Technical Certificate or a Technical Knowledge Qualification). This includes all the theory and knowledge required and relevant to the practical skills an apprentice will develop in their job role and knowledge of the industry and market.

Competence Based Qualification (CBQ)

To ensure an apprentice is practically competent within their field or job role, an assessment is carried out both College and in the workplace.

Combined Qualification (CQ)

Some apprenticeship frameworks have a CQ, which includes both knowledge based and competence based elements, and covers the requirements of both the CBQ and the KBQ such as plumbing and electrical installation.

Essential Skills

Essential skills must be completed where appropriate to the Apprenticeship framework if the apprentice has not already achieved an exemption of at least a Grade C /4 at GCSE in Application of Number, Communication and ICT.

Employment Rights and Responsibilities (ERR)

It’s important that ERR training empowers apprentices to understand employer and employee rights and responsibilities under Employment Law, and how employment rights can be affected by other legislation. ERR is available via workbooks and Induction modules from the relevant Sector Skills Council or Standard Setting Body.

Additional Employer Requirements (AER)

Depending on where an apprentice is going to work they might need to learn some extra skills. These qualifications usually cover training that’s specific to the area of work, e.g. first aid or health and safety.

What will I get paid?

If you're aged 16 to 19 or in the first year of your apprenticeship, you’re entitled to the apprentice rate. The hourly rate for 1 April 2024 is £6.40. This rate is effective from 1st April 2024 and usually changes each year.

If you're 19 or over and have completed the first year of your apprenticeship, you’re entitled to the National Minimum Wage.

This is the minimum you’ll earn - many employers often pay a lot more and offer their apprentices a competitive salary. 

You'll also be entitled to sick pay, any additional benefits your employer offers to its other employees and at least 20 days of paid holiday per year.

What are the key benefits of studying an Apprenticeship?

Earn while you learn

You can avoid student debt since there are no college fees to pay for joining the apprenticeship and you can enjoy the perks of earning while you are learning.

Receive recognised qualifications

Each level of your apprenticeship rewards you with a qualification you can showcase to future employers. The levels are: Level 2 (equivalent to 5 GCSE passes); Level 3 (equivalent to 2 A-Level passes); right the way through to Level 6 (degree level) and Level 7 (masters degree).

Gain independence and respect

Working in a company will improve your employability skills and gain the respect of your co-workers and employer, giving you the confidence you need to carry out your role.

Benefit from ongoing and personalised support

When you begin your apprenticeship you’ll be assigned a Training Support Officer who will work closely with your employer and course lecturers to provide an update on your progress and identify any further support requirements. You will have regular tutorials and your course lecturer will guide you through your course. College staff are available to answer any of your questions at any point and provide you with support tailored to suit your needs; they’ll be on hand whenever you need them.

Gain real work experience

Working life is completely different to being in school or university and an apprenticeship, is a way of easing you into that environment whilst having people around to guide you along the way. Your colleagues will be able to show you the ropes of everyday working life so that you’ll soon fit right in.

Receive discounts

As an apprentice, you’re still classed as a student, meaning you’re entitled to an NUS student discount card. This provides you with money off restaurants, clothing stores, insurance, gym memberships and much more! Find out more about apprenticeships Extra Discount  

Discounted Travel Payments and great savings on many well- known shops and big brands

Public transport is a vital link for young people to access education, social activities, medical appointments and visiting family and friends and as an apprentice aged 16-23 you can also avail  of discounted fares -1/3rd off Translink bus and rail travel in Northern Ireland and up to 50% off Enterprise for up to 8 years by applying for the yLink Card.