September 6, 2016

You’re hired! The rise and rise of modern apprenticeships

Apprenticeships have existed in the UK for over eight hundred years and, thankfully, we’ve come a long way since the 1970s when employers would often telephone the Department of Employment to ask for ‘a free lad’.

Today’s attitudes are much more respectful when recruiting and training college leavers, with the benefits of providing in-job training recognised by employers and employees alike. And, from 2017, UK employers with an annual payroll over £3m will pay a compulsory 0.5% of their annual wage bill to support the creation of apprenticeships – the new apprenticeship levy.

Apprenticeships – a potted history

The history of the apprentice in the UK is somewhat chequered.

Two hundred years ago, parents who could afford it would make a one-off payment to a master craftsman to train their offspring for up to seven years.

Wages were optional – the expert training delivered by the craftsman was seen as a sufficient way of rewarding the apprentice for their labour.

During the Industrial Revolution, child apprenticeships flourished. Hours were long, work was dangerous and productivity was ensured with a belt or stick.

Over time, employment of children and young people was legally regulated. Craft apprenticeships gained in popularity both with employers and young people, but their usage waned as the Swinging Sixties took hold.

Mechanisation, plentiful jobs and maintenance grants to attend university all had a detrimental impact.

In the 1970s and 80s, notorious government measures such as the Youth Opportunities Programme and Youth Training Scheme arrived. These were less vocational preparation and more of a measure to reduce the youth unemployment numbers.

Training was almost incidental and pay was very poor.

The modern apprenticeship

The current generation of modern apprenticeships is vastly different and significantly improved. With rising university fees and the scrapping of maintenance grants, apprenticeships present a very attractive alternative to higher education for young people.

A statutory Apprenticeship Agreement must now underpin each trainee’s employment, but legislation now ensures apprentices have employee’s rights and they should always be employed under a legally compliant contract of service.

You must use one that’s suitable for the circumstances – avoid old ‘common law’ apprenticeship contracts (Moorepay can advise you about this).

On completion of the apprenticeship, employment normally ends. But beware: if you don’t end the contract promptly, you could face a legal challenge.

It’s also difficult to make an apprentice redundant because their contract envisages completion of training for a specified purpose.

Key facts for employers considering taking on apprentice(s)

  • Employers in many parts of England may qualify for grants of up to £1,500 to recruit apprentices if they employ less than 50 staff.

  • Eligibility criteria in English regions, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales can vary.

  • The National Minimum Wage for apprentices is low: an employer-attractive £3.30 per hour if under 19.
    (This rate also applies to the first year of an apprenticeship for those over 19. Apprentices are entitled to the minimum wage for their age if they are aged 19 or over and have have completed the first year of their apprenticeship.)

  • Apprenticeships must last a minimum of 12 months and at least 30 hours per week.
    (The usual regulations about working time apply to those under 18.)

The apprenticeship framework

There are different levels of apprenticeships and training usually lasts between one and four years. The Apprenticeship Agreement must define the trade, skill or occupation for which they’re being trained and set out what is known as a ‘qualifying apprenticeship framework and level’.

The framework sets out mandatory requirements for each apprenticeship programme and ensures consistency and compliance with agreed standards. Qualifications to be achieved, key skills, job roles, entry routes, length of training and career opportunities also feature.

If your payroll exceeds £3m and you haven’t employed an apprentice before, it makes perfect sense to consider doing so. You may well be able to offset the impact of the compulsory levy – the Government will be producing further details between October and December 2016.

For those whose payroll is under £3m and don’t qualify for the levy, engaging an apprentice can still present an attractive and worthwhile proposition.

You can find further details about taking on an apprentice and the new apprenticeship levy on

For guidance about the sort of contract of employment your apprentice will need, speak to Moorepay’s Policy Team on 0845 073 0249 or email

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About the author

Mike Fitzsimmons

About the author

Mike Fitzsimmons

Mike is a Senior HR Consultant within the Moorepay Policy Team. He is responsible for the developing of employment documentation and is an Employment law advisor. With over 30 years of senior management and HR experience, Mike has managed teams of between 30 and 100 employees and is familiar with all the issues that employing people brings. He has also served as a non-executive director on the Boards of several social enterprises and undertook a five year tour of duty as Executive Chair of a £30+ million annual turnover Government agency.

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