Apprenticeships – the types and levels explained

Updated: Apr 7, 2021

More apprenticeships are available across a range of job roles than ever before, from covering the obvious such as brickwork and business administration to the more obscure such as dairy technology. What some people might not realise is that apprenticeships are also accessible at different levels on the UK’s National Qualification Framework (NQF), in addition to being available up to postgraduate level. This article aims to clarify what types of apprenticeship exist at which levels for apprentices to access, starting from the lowest level at intermediate to the highest at degree level.

Intermediate Apprenticeships

As the first type of apprenticeship on our list, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that intermediate apprenticeships are the most basic form of apprenticeships that are available. For that reason these apprenticeships can be highly suitable for an apprentice who is a complete beginner to the industry or trade they want to pursue, whilst their status as a Level 2 qualification means they are considered equivalent to GCSEs. In addition to being the lowest level of apprenticeships, they can also take the shortest time to complete at around 12-18 months on average. Student apprentices on intermediate and advanced apprenticeships may also be expected to gain GCSE or Level 2 qualifications in Maths and English by their training provider if these have not yet been gained.

Advanced Apprenticeships

Not surprisingly these qualifications are one level higher than intermediate apprenticeships and exist at Level 3 on the UK’s NQF. They are typically equivalent to gaining two passes at A-level and take around 15-18 months to complete. Advanced apprenticeships might be suitable for prospective apprentices who are new to a particular sector but don’t wish to begin at intermediate level. As these qualifications are A-level equivalent, advanced apprenticeships may also be more suitable for those apprentices who have already passed five or more GCSEs. As a result of their level of difficulty, advanced apprenticeships should help in training an apprentice to undertake a supervisory or team leader role at the end of their qualification.

Higher Apprenticeships

A significant step-up from the two previous levels on our list, higher apprenticeships are roughly equivalent to the level of study and expertise gained by a student on a foundation degree. They can be either Level 4 or Level 5 qualifications, with the former being at the same level of difficulty as a first year undergraduate degree and the latter requiring a level of study normally demanded from second year undergraduate students. On average these apprenticeships can take between 3-5 years to complete. The competition for gaining a higher apprenticeship is often tougher as there are fewer vacancies available than those for intermediate or advanced.

Degree Apprenticeships

The crème de la crème of the apprenticeship system, degree apprenticeships are the most rigorous and sought-after apprenticeships available. They can be found at Level 6 which is equivalent to the final year of a bachelor’s degree or even be available as a postgraduate level qualification at Level 7. As with higher apprenticeships the number of vacancies available tend to be more limited due to being high in demand, and can last anywhere from three to seven years in duration.

Nonetheless, it’s likely that more vacancies will become available as they have numerous advantages for apprentices. Students study part-time at university and can gain a complete bachelor’s or master’s degree at the end of their end-point assessment, with many employers even covering the entirety of the apprentice’s student fees at university. For those reasons the demand for these apprenticeships is only likely to increase, especially as they offer the opportunity to gain a degree level qualification whilst earning a real wage.

This article has covered what level of apprenticeships are available as well as what can be expected in terms of their level of difficulty and length of time involved. The entry requirements and duration span for each of these four apprenticeship types can vary depending on the requirements involved, so it’s usually best to clarify these points with your employer or training provider. The relatively new addition of higher and degree apprenticeships is a good example of how attitudes to apprenticeships as a way of learning new skills is changing for the better as a viable alternative to completing a conventional degree.