Enlist as a soldier and learn a trade while getting paid
Joining the Army isn't for everyone - but it does offer real apprenticeships
You might think that joining the Army is about long, hard, wet slogs through muddy ditches and short, hot visits to foreign countries where no one seems to like you much, but it's not really like that. The Army is one of Britain's biggest employers, and because of this, it needs plenty of people with all sorts of skills – not just simple soldiers.
All those tanks and Jeeps don't just run themselves, for example; they need drivers, mechanics and logistics experts to keep them running. Then there's the engineering corps, the Royal Engineers, who do everything from bridge-building to bomb disposal. These are the guys who are sent in after the fight, to help with the humanitarian and rebuilding efforts, and they need a lot of different skills: joiners, plumbers, electricians, you name it.
Because it needs all this expertise, the Army invests heavily in apprenticeships. It now runs the largest apprenticeship system in Britain, with 11,000 soldiers enrolled, according to Colonel Steve Ellison, who runs its Department of Education and Training.
You enlist as normal, because recruits are taken on as soldiers first and as trade apprentices second. You then get your standard 14 weeks of basic training, after which new paths open up, and if you want to learn new skills, apprenticeships become an option.
Each apprenticeship is designed to fit in with someone's particular role in the Army, whatever that may be, from bricklayer to caterer to quartermaster.
Then there's the pay. One of the major advantages of taking an apprenticeship with the Army, says Col Ellison, is that people are on full pay from the start. If you were doing the same apprenticeship at a civilian firm, you'd be on a much smaller trainee's salary – you might end up on a lot more than your friends. "Every apprentice on the scheme is already a regular solider on regular terms. They get exactly the same benefits, pay and holidays as regular soldiers."
Depending on what subject you choose, and how highly prized your skills are, you could end up being paid a very handsome wage indeed – a fully qualified private in the top pay band can take home nearly £26,000.
An apprenticeship will typically take 12 to 24 months to complete, according to complexity. In total, there are around 30 options, but the Army's specialisations are in mechanical engineering, engineering maintenance, ICT, driving, logistics and catering. There are rarer specialisations, for example, the Household Cavalry and the Army's dog-handling units which take apprenticeships in animal care.
And, at the end of it, you'll be properly qualified, with either a Level 2 or 3 NVQ. The pass rate is good, Col Ellison says. "Seventy-nine per cent of our soldiers achieve their apprenticeships –9 per cent above the national standard, which we're very proud of."
For some applicable trades, the Army encourages and supports people through higher qualifications, such as foundation or even honour degrees.
Lt Col Daniel Scott, 19, is a typical apprenticeship candidate. A communications engineer with the Royal Signals regiment, he is on a 30-month advanced apprenticeship in IT in Salisbury. "The Signals are the Army's IT experts so in my training I'm learning how to carry out checks on communications kit and technology and solve problems as they arise.
"I joined the Army after my GCSEs as I wanted to start working right away, but I decided an Army apprenticeship was a good way to get a qualification while getting paid. The qualifications and skills I've gained are recognised on civvy street so I'm pretty confident about getting a job when I do decide to leave."
Mission accomplished How to go about it
*How do I apply?
Apprenticeships are offered alongside regular Army service. Visit www.armyjobs.mod.uk/
*How long does it take?
Depending on specialisation, apprenticeships take one to two years
*Are the prospects good?
There are obvious avenues for progression within the service, but the Army reckons a completed apprenticeship can add £100,000 to lifetime civilian earnings
*And what about pay?
New entrants get £13,377.24, but this rises with rank and role. A top private can earn £25,886.88.
*What are the perks?
Generous leave; a nice uniform
*Any entry requirements?
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