top of page
  • Writer's pictureThe Parents' Guide to

What is an apprenticeship?

A brief history

Apprenticeships date back as far as the 14th century and were closely related to medieval trades of the time. Skilled artisans taught their craft to apprentices who, eventually, became masters themselves and employed their own apprentices. Early apprenticeships were not regulated; parents paid a master craftsman to teach their child a skill and the child was legally bound to the master for the duration of the apprenticeship which usually lasted six to eight years. Children started work when they were around 10-12 years old and the master was expected to provide moral guidance as well as food and shelter.

What is an apprenticeship? Two teenage boys working in a factory: The Parents' Guide to
A brief history of apprenticeships
Teenage male apprentice working in factory: The Parents' Guide to
What is an apprenticeship?


In 1563, during the time of Elizabeth I, a more formal system was introduced to prevent crafts being practised by non-skilled workers including some terms and conditions of work for apprenticeships. In the following centuries, the rights and entitlements of the apprentice gradually improved and, by the mid-17th century, some apprentices started to receive a small wage for their work.

Mid to late 1900s

By the 1960s, a large number of initiatives were introduced to modernise the traditional apprenticeship. Industrial Training Boards were set up to improve and monitor the delivery and quality of apprenticeship training schemes. Despite such efforts, by the 1980s and 1990s, apprenticeship recruitment slowed. This was largely attributed to the decline in manufacturing and crafts-based industries and the increased accessibility to further education.

Recent developments

Since then, successive governments have continued to reform and modernise apprenticeships to reflect the demands of a changing economy. For example, in 2015, degree apprenticeships were introduced offering a credible alternative to university education. This enabled apprentices to obtain a degree qualification on the successful completion of their apprenticeship. In 2018, over 210,000 students successfully completed an apprenticeship with 7,000 completing the degree apprenticeship – only three years after its introduction in 2015.

Apprentice and chef  - Professional Cookery Advanced apprenticeship: The Parents' Guide to
Understanding apprenticeship levels

Apprenticeship levels:

Most apprenticeships work towards one or more qualifications. These qualifications correspond to the level of apprenticeship.

Intermediate apprenticeships (level 2) is equivalent to gaining five GCSEs at grade 4 and above. Most apprenticeships at this level will cover basic numeracy and literacy skills as well as providing level 2 qualifications, such as awards, certificates, diplomas or NVQs depending on the length and difficulty of the work and training provided. Advanced apprenticeships (level 3) provide qualifications equivalent to 2 A levels. Level 3 qualifications may include National Certificates, National Diplomas or NVQs, suitable as a post 16 or post 18 option.

Higher apprenticeships (level 4 / 5) provide a higher education qualification equivalent to the first or second year of university. Level 4 and 5 qualifications include Higher National Certificates (equivalent to the first year of university), Higher National Diplomas (equivalent to the second year of university) or foundation degrees.

Degree apprenticeships (level 6 / 7) offer an earn while you learn route to BSc or BA status without incurring any debt in tuition fees.

Level 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 apprenticeships - The Parents' Guide to
Apprenticeship levels grid, intermediate, advanced, higher and degree apprenticeships: The Parents' Guide to
Nurse apprentice completing a degree apprenticeship in nursing: The Parents' Guide to
Degree apprenticeship in nursing

Keep an open mind

Apprenticeships may have been around for centuries, but there have been significant changes in recent years. Historically, apprenticeships supported trade careers such as carpentry, building and needlework, without offering a route into professional careers such as law, accountancy and management. In addition, earlier apprenticeships didn’t provide the opportunity of obtaining higher qualifications such as degrees or masters. This has now changed. However, despite such significant changes, there are still some misconceptions and preconceived ideas. Keep in mind that apprenticeships are available across a wide range of industries, can provide a route into professional occupations and, with the introduction of degree appren­ticeships, offer a credible alternative to university. Degree apprenticeships have also created routes into jobs which previously could only be entered by obtaining a degree through university, such as nursing.


Is your child considering an apprenticeship?

For more information on apprenticeships and how you can help your child apply for one check out The Parents’ Guide to Apprenticeships

We always love to hear from you, so do let us know if there are any subjects you’d like us to chat to you about. Stay safe and keep happy, Vanessa and Darius -


bottom of page