Lisa Stone. Careers Writers Association

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Higher Apprenticeships and School Leaver Programmes

Higher apprenticeships are a real alternative to higher education as more major companies such as Rolls Royce, BT and PWC are running programmes at this level. For many, this is an ideal way to avoid that student debt, so if your child is considering higher education, this could prove an excellent route. They would obtain higher level qualifications, gain valuable work experience and skills for their CV and get paid at the same time. Apprenticeships have been popular in countries like Germany and Switzerland for many years and are recognised routes into many professions. In the UK, the apprenticeship route, although a valid and successful pathway in years gone by, has taken a while to become established as an alternative to higher education. It is now gaining in popularity as people realise how it can boost career chances in a challenging economy as well as being a cost-effective way of obtaining degree level qualifications.

The following information is UK wide, but if you want to look into higher apprenticeships in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, see

What are apprenticeships?

Apprenticeships are work-based learning programmes offering skills and qualifications whilst in employment. They are available in a wide range of careers such as health and social care, business administration, ICT, customer service, engineering, hospitality and travel and construction. Apprentices are placed in full time employment with an appropriate wage e.g. e.g. engineering apprenticeships can start on £19,000 pa. Many apprentices progress to take higher or professional qualifications and, if they wish, go on to degree level study.

What qualifications do you need to take a higher apprenticeship?

A Level 4 Higher Apprenticeship requires A levels or equivalent and is one obvious route after sixth form. There are apprenticeships available at Levels 1-3 demanding lower level qualifications.

What form does the study take?

Higher apprenticeships involve a combination of learning on-the-job, working alongside experienced colleagues, with off-the-job training at a college, university or perhaps a company training centre,

What would the training be?

As a higher apprentice the off-the-job training might be block-release, for example a ‘block’ of several weeks (or a whole year) full-time at a college, training centre or university. Or it might also take the form of day-release, for example, one day a week at college or university. It could well be a mixture of the two as apprentices progress through their training.

What qualifications could be available?

Many higher apprenticeships offer the opportunity to study for a foundation degree, HND or honours degree. For example, higher ICT apprentices with Cap Gemini take a 5 year programme leading to a degree in BSc Computing and IT Practice and a Level 4 Diploma in Professional Competence. Apprentices might also be able to work towards professional qualifications specific to an industry - for example, engineers can take the first steps towards gaining chartered status.

Examples of Higher Apprenticeships:

Here are some links to current higher apprenticeships to give you a flavour of what’s on offer. It’s certainly a route worth investigating especially if your son or daughter has a clear route in mind.

For an overview see


British Telecom: Engineering and Business

Rolls Royce: Business and engineering

Virgin Media: Data services:

NHS: Health services and admin

IT: (Includes degree apprenticeships)

Land based and environmental:

Legal services:

Space engineering:

You can search for Higher /Degree Apprenticeship frameworks, find more information and apply online on the National Apprenticeship Service website at: and also

School Leaver Programmes

There are now School Leaver programmes in all business sectors, from technical to commercial to creative. They are often with FTSE 100 leading employers who offer great training programmes and pay good starting salaries.



Marks and Spencer


JP Morgan

Caroline Barker, March 2017 (Edited and revised by Lisa Stone, August 2019)