Hiring an apprentice is an effective way to find and train new talent, upskill existing employees, and create a qualified workforce to meet the specific needs of your business.
An apprenticeship is a type of paid employment that combines on-the-job training with study toward a formal qualification for a specific role.
It is a suitable work arrangement for people aged 16 and over and can be studied at any level.
This means that you can use an apprenticeship to hire someone new and inexperienced, take on an accomplished individual who wants to retrain or advance their career, or improve the skills and knowledge of an existing employee.
Apprenticeships are a popular route for businesses of every size, covering more than 1,500 roles across more than 170 industries.
So, whether you run a large organisation, a small limited company, or a sole trader firm – it can be a great way to recruit and train skilled staff at all levels.
6 steps to hiring an apprentice
All apprenticeships in England must be arranged through the government’s National Apprenticeship Service. There are different processes for hiring apprentices in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
If you have not already done so, you will first need to register your business as an employer with HMRC.
Let’s take a look at the 6 steps to hiring an apprentice in England.
1. Set up your apprenticeship service account
To use the Apprenticeship Service, you will need to register an account online. During this process, you will have to:
- add a Pay As You Earn (PAYE) scheme for your business
- accept the employer agreement with the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA)
If you are a small employer (i.e. your annual PAYE bill is less than £3 million), you will need to provide your employer PAYE reference and Accounts Office reference when setting up your account.
2. Choose a training course
Once your account has been created, it’s time to choose an apprenticeship training course for your business.
There are hundreds of courses available at different qualification levels across a wide range of industries, from agriculture and construction to accounting and legal.
3. Find a training provider
When you have chosen an apprenticeship training course, the next step is to find a training provider to deliver the course.
You can search through providers by entering the apprenticeship location in the online portal. The search box will appear at the bottom of the screen when you select a course.
4. Get funding
You can apply for funding from the government to pay for most of your apprentice’s training, assessment, and other associated costs.
If you’re a small employer, you will pay the course provider 5% of the training and assessment costs. The government will cover the remaining 95%, up to the funding band maximum.
You can also get a £1,000 payment to support the apprentice in the workplace if they are:
- aged 16 to 18
- aged 19 to 25 with an education, health, and care plan
- aged 19 to 25 and were previously in care
If the apprentice is eligible, you will also receive two payments of £500 from your training provider. The first instalment will be made after 90 days, and the second paid after a year.
5. Advertise your apprenticeship vacancy
Now it is time to find the perfect apprentice by creating an apprenticeship advert and submitting it for approval.
You can do this in the ‘adverts’ section of your online apprenticeship service account. Alternatively, you can ask your training provider to do it for you.
Once approved, it will be posted online on ‘Find an apprenticeship’ and any external sites you would like it to be advertised.
6. Choose an apprentice
The final step in the process is to interview potential candidates and choose an apprentice for your business.
The selection and interview process may be slightly different, depending on the qualification level of the apprenticeship.
For example, if you’re hiring a school leaver at entry level, they won’t have higher-education qualifications or much (if any) work experience. The apprenticeship will be the first step in their training and new career path.
Once you’ve selected the perfect apprentice, you will need to:
- create an apprenticeship agreement – detailing the length of employment, the training they will receive, their working conditions, and the qualification they will be working toward
- create and sign a commitment statement with the apprentice and training provider – outlining the training content and schedule, what is expected of each party, and how queries or complaints will be dealt with
You can create your own apprenticeship agreement and commitment statement, or you can download templates from ESFA.
Suitable for school leavers to mature professionals
A common misconception is that apprentices must be 16 to 25 years old when they start. However, there is no upper age limit – apprenticeships are actually available to anyone aged 16 or above.
For school leavers, they are a great alternative to university. But apprenticeships can benefit people of all ages who want to improve their skills and knowledge in existing roles, or start a new career in an entirely different field.
This means that you can select from a wider pool of potential candidates, giving you the best chance of finding an apprentice with the right skills and attributes for your business.
Apprentices must be paid at least the National Minimum Wage (NMW) Apprentice Rate, which varies according to their age group and year of apprenticeship.
- Aged 16 to 18 years old – the NMW for an apprentice is £4.81 per hour
- Aged 19 or over and in the first year – the NMW rate for an apprentice is £4.81 per hour
- Aged 19 or over and have completed the first year – NMW or National Living Wage rate for their age
You can use GOV.UK’s National Minimum Wage and Living Wage calculator to check that you are paying your apprentice the correct amount.
Apprentices must work toward an approved apprenticeship, with training lasting at least one year. However, some courses can take up to 5 years to complete, depending on which qualification level the apprentice is studying.
When you hire an apprentice, you must employ them in a proper job. Essentially, one that enables them to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to pass their assessment.
This means that they must:
- work alongside suitably experienced staff
- gain job-specific knowledge and skills
- get adequate time (at least 20% of their normal working hours) for training or study
You must pay apprentices for time spent studying or training for their apprenticeship qualification during their normal working hours.
You have a legal requirement to provide them with an employment contract. They must also receive the same holiday pay, benefits, and rights as other employees in similar roles or at a similar grade.
Their contract of employment should clarify how much they are being paid and for what hours of work and study/training.
Alternative to hiring and training an apprentice yourself
If you don’t want to hire and train an apprentice yourself, you can use a Flexi-Job Apprenticeship Agency instead. In such instances, the apprentice will be employed by the agency but they will work in your business.
A solution to the current skills gap?
Whilst there is no shortage of graduates, UK employers are struggling to fill certain positions. The Covid-19 pandemic and the loss of many EU workers have only exacerbated this situation.
Despite the influx of graduates in the job market, skills-based study routes – such as apprenticeships – fail to keep pace with industry needs.
The skills gap is particularly pronounced in the tech industry, with technology innovation accelerating at a much faster rate than the availability of qualified people to carry out the work.
Other roles that employers continuously struggle to fill at the present time include:
- programmers and software developers
- web designers
- cyber security specialists
- engineers – civil, mechanical, electrical, design
- digital marketing and social media professionals
- HGV drivers
- health and care workers
Apprenticeships could, therefore, be part of the solution to the UK’s growing skills shortage.
This type of tailored, on-the-job training and study, can help businesses to narrow the specific skills gaps they are facing. Specifically, by training and investing in new talent and providing reskilling and upskilling opportunities to existing employees.
So there you have it…
We’ve explained what an apprenticeship in England entails, including the rules you need to be aware of, and the steps you must follow when hiring an apprentice to work in your business.
Whether you’re hoping to recruit and train a school leaver, find a graduate or experienced professional, or upskill and retain existing employees – apprenticeships are a great way to address skills shortages, strengthen your workforce, and grow your business.
If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.