Get your foot in the door as an apprentice

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The Independent Online

So what is an apprenticeship and who does them?

An apprenticeship is a combination of on- and off-the-job training available to young people aged 16-24. The training offers a structured route to a successful career, with learning constantly monitored and your performance checked regularly to ensure you are getting the most out of it.

As an apprentice you would work alongside experienced colleagues to gain job-specific skills. Off-the-job, usually on a day release basis, you would receive training with a local college to gain all the skills you need to be successful in your chosen career.

Some of the biggest names in business -such as BT, Vodafone, Tesco, British Gas and Land Rover - run successful apprenticeship programmes and are keen advocates. British Gas, for example, has put its apprenticeship training programme at the very heart of its business growth plans, and the company's research shows its apprentices to be 25 per cent more productive than staff trained elsewhere.

"We fully recognise the business benefits of 'growing' our own engineers - they live the culture and our customer service principles are embedded from the very outset," says British Gas's national training manager, Willie Nicoll.

What careers can I take up an apprenticeship in?

You can choose from one of over 200 different apprenticeships in more than 80 different industry sectors, ranging from business and accounting to engineering and retail. Some of the most popular apprenticeships at present are engineering, business administration, media studies, construction and hospitality. However, the options stretch from management to sports turf, so there is something to suit everyone. You follow a career path of your choice and, best of all, get paid for it! Getting paid while you learn might sound too good to be true, but as an apprentice you really do get the best of both worlds, being paid from day one while developing fantastic skills that will set you up for life.

Lucy Wilkins, 24, a business administration apprentice from Somerset, says, "I really feel that an apprenticeship is the best thing you can do - you are earning a wage and learning skills at the same time. To anyone else considering an apprenticeship I'd say go for it!"

Why should I do an apprenticeship?

A recent study by qualifications body City & Guilds shows that today's apprentice is set to become tomorrow's self-made millionaire. Some of the country's most successful business people and celebrities started out as apprentices: Jamie Oliver, Karen Millen and Sir Alex Ferguson, for example. The collective wealth of the nation's top 50 vocationally educated millionaires has steadily increased in recent years to over £8bn!

As well as providing you with nationally recognised, transferable qualifications and skills, apprenticeships are a fantastic stepping stone to a great career, or even university. More and more apprentices are going on to do a degree after their apprenticeship, often paid for by their employers. Not bad considering there are thousands of graduates facing large amounts of debt. According to a business survey carried out by the Learning & Skills Council (LSC), more than a quarter of employers said apprenticeships were the ideal qualification for potential employees, rating this form of vocational training higher than any other qualification. "Employers are telling us they rate an apprenticeship over any other qualification - even a degree," says an LSC spokesperson.

Since the introduction of apprenticeships over 10 years ago, over one million young people have taken one up. Since 2004, students aged 14-16, still in full-time education, have been able to undertake a young apprenticeship, part-time alongside their core subjects at school. There are currently over 130,000 businesses offering apprenticeships.

How long does an apprenticeship take and how can I study for one?

There is no set time to complete an apprenticeship as each one is different, although they typically take between one and four years, depending on the type of apprenticeship. The duration also depends on the ability of the apprentice and the employer's requirements.

In June, the LSC held their third annual Apprenticeship Awards. The aim of this glitzy evening was to showcase the achievements of young people who were in the process of or had completed their apprenticeships, and to celebrate outstanding employers involved in apprenticeship schemes. This year's awards attracted a record number of entries and were hosted by TV stars Richard Hammond and Natasha Kaplinsky. Next time maybe you could be there!

Stephen Gardner is the director of apprenticeships at the Learning & Skills Council

MORE INFO

If you are interested in finding out more about apprenticeships, visit www.apprenticeships.org.uk. Remember that demand for places is high, so if you're still considering your options, why not talk to a Connexions Direct adviser. You can get in touch with them by calling 080 800 13219.

If you're based in Scotland, visit www.modernapprenticeships.com for further information. If you're from Wales, you can go to www.elwa.ac.uk and those from Northern Ireland should visit www.delni.gov.uk

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