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Apprentices and mentoring

Supporting quality apprenticeships and mentoring

Apprenticeships are undergoing a revolution. Since May 2017, all employers operating in the UK with an annual pay bill of more than £3m have had to pay a levy to the government.

Prospect supports quality apprenticeships and wants to play a key role in the programme.

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The apprenticeship levy is intended to fund the creation of up to three million new high-quality apprenticeships by 2020; employers will be able to tap into the funding for their own apprenticeship training and assessment programmes.

Policy covering skills and training is devolved in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland meaning decisions on how the funding settlement will be spent will be up to the three administrations. 

However, a range of generous subsidies accompany the levy to incentivise employers, large or small, to take on more apprentices and consider apprenticeship as a route to address business skills gaps.

We will see apprenticeships expand across areas such as engineering, science, procurement, marketing, digital and health protection, and there will be higher-level apprenticeships in many of the industries where Prospect is active.

Proponents point out that the new levy will only affect large employers – about 2% of companies in England – and that employers with an annual wage bill of less than £3m will not pay it.

However, if an employer with a payroll of less than £3m does offer apprenticeships, they will be required to pay only 10% of the cost, with the government funding the remaining 90%.

The government will also cover the entire training costs for businesses with fewer than 50 employees, and those who take on apprentices under the age of 19 (or those aged 19-24 who are care leavers or who have special educational needs).

Our apprenticeship strategy

Prospect has launched a strategy that includes a range of supporting initiatives for apprentices, such as:

Can I join the union while I’m an apprentice?

Apprentices joining Prospect will pay a competitive subscription rate based on their salary, and will receive our core membership benefits such as informal and individual support and advice on issues at work, as well as collective representation. Members aged 35 or under will automatically belong to our national Young Professionals’ Network and, where available, can join their own branch YPNs. For more information, please contact Prospect’s lifelong learning office, Rachel Bennett, at rachel.bennett@prospect.org.uk

Prospect’s apprenticeships app

Download and use our free app to search for apprenticeship jobs from the largest collection of apprentice vacancies available via an app in the UK.

Get it from the Google Play store for Android devices or AppStore for Apple devices.

The app contains a wealth of information on apprenticeships. You can find out more about a particular role, apply for a job, determine minimum rates of pay and explore what should be covered in your apprenticeship contract.

It is aimed at those considering apprenticeships; those involved in managing, designing and operating apprenticeships; parents and guardians; and recently recruited apprentices.

While much of the guidance is specifically related to England, the app also links to information and signposts vacancies in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Is it for me? Let’s bust some myths and stereotypes about apprenticeships


Apprenticeships are only for school leavers – False

Apprenticeships are not age-specific – they are open to all. Existing higher qualifications are also no longer a barrier. A graduate can do a lower-level apprenticeship if it allows the individual to gain new skills and the training is materially different to their previous qualification.

Apprenticeships are for the less academic – False
Apprenticeships exist at all equivalent academic levels. While many conform to the traditional perception of training for low-level craft occupations, higher-skilled and more diverse apprenticeships, up to degree standard, are emerging in Prospect sectors.

Prospect workplaces like Defence Equipment and Support and the Foreign Office, as well as more traditional sectors such as energy and utilities, have been advertising for advanced, higher and degree apprenticeships in project management, engineering, IT, finance, procurement and logistics.

The civil service is also expanding its fast-track apprenticeships, with those who successfully complete the programme eligible to apply to its graduate scheme.

Apprenticeships are a thing of the past – False
A House of Commons briefing released in November 2016 showed there were 509,400 apprenticeship starts in England in 2015-16, which was 9,500 more than the previous year.

People aged 25 and over accounted for 44% (224,100) of apprenticeship starts in 2015-16, while those aged 19-24 accounted for 30% (153,860). Under-19s made up 26% of the starts (131,420).

So apprenticeships are in vogue again? – True
Apprenticeships can provide the skill sets needed, not just in science and technology, but across many occupations required for economic regeneration. They also provide a valid and robust pathway to progression, aligned to any academic route.

Policy makers are seeking to avoid the “warehousing” of young people due to an older working population and deregulated pension frameworks resulting in fewer opportunities for young people to gain employability skills, work experience and employment.

The levy will apply across the UK – True and False
Apprenticeship reforms directly affect businesses and organisations that operate in the UK. Part of the levy formula outlines how this will apply to English and non-English taxpayers.

Parliament has agreed apprenticeship settlement funding with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland up to 2020. However, skills and training policy is devolved to the nations, so it will be up to each administration to decide how to use the money.

Apprenticeships are good news – Maybe
Apprenticeships will encourage employers to identify and develop talent. They are more likely to be successful, though, if employers and unions work together.

This is a one-size-fits-all government initiative – False
The measures and reforms the government has instigated means employers are in charge of the design, format and ownership of these standards.

This is only an issue for big employers – False
The size of the employer is determined by payroll, not by number of employees, except those defined as public sector employers. All employers over the £3m benchmark, including unions, charities and some educational institutions operating in the UK, will pay.

The duty on public sector employers

Since January 2017, public sector employers with more than 250 employees have been required to commit to recruiting 200,000 more apprentices by 2020, in addition to the mandate for apprentices to make up 2.3% of their yearly headcount.

We have warned that rigid targets must not lead to costly, and potentially damaging, reorganisations, or put even more pressure on pay, but instead should focus on ensuring a spread of quality apprenticeship programmes across a range of disciplines.

The civil service unions have agreed a new framework on employing apprentices across the civil service. It provides positive safeguards and opens up recruitment opportunities for Prospect. More than 40% of new apprentices are already aged 25 or over and the new target is only likely to increase this.

In addition, the government’s reforms means all relevant bids for government contracts worth £10,000, or lasting longer than 12 months, must commit to offering an apprenticeship.

The word apprentice is now protected, and action will be taken if training providers misuse it.