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Your rights as an apprentice

  • Your rights as an apprenticeWhat is an Apprenticeship? 
  • What do Apprenticeships offer?
  • Apprenticeships guidance
  • Apprenticeship Frameworks and Apprenticeship Standards
  • What are you entitled to?
  • Your terms and conditions of employment
  • How much do you get paid?
  • What’s in it for you?
  • Where can you apply for an Apprenticeship?
  • Joining Unite

What is an Apprenticeship?
Apprenticeships provide the chance to ‘earn and learn’ in a wide range of jobs and sectors and give you the chance to develop skills, experience and qualifications. Apprenticeships can take between one and four years to complete depending on the level of Apprenticeship and the industry sector.

Apprenticeships are more than just a qualification, they are an excellent way of gaining workplace experience, understanding how a business works, improving personal and social skills and starting out on your career. Apprenticeships are open to all age groups above 16 years old – whether you are just leaving school, have been working for years or are seeking to start a new career.

There are many different types of Apprenticeships suitable for different job roles from engineering and manufacturing to financial services, veterinary nursing to accountancy, through to engineering, mechanical, electrotechnical and the skilled construction trades, at different levels depending on the skills set of the occupation being studied for.
The different types of Apprenticeships levels are follows:

➜ Intermediate Level Apprenticeships (Level 2)
➜ Advanced Level Apprenticeships (Level 3)
➜ Higher Apprenticeships (Levels 4 and above)
➜ Degree Apprenticeships (Levels 6 and 7)

Foundation Apprenticeships in Scotland – In Scotland, Foundation Apprenticeships are also available, and should not be confused with the apprenticeships described above. Foundation Apprenticeships are new work-based learning qualifications for secondary school pupils. They enable pupils in S4 to S6 to complete elements of a Modern Apprenticeship while still at school, and then progress onto a Modern Apprenticeship when leaving full time education. You can find out more about Foundation Apprenticeships here.

What do Apprenticeships offer?

Apprenticeships give you the opportunity to become qualified, experienced and competent in a chosen occupation, trade or profession.

In England and Wales, existing ‘Apprenticeship frameworks’ outline the requirements of an apprenticeship programme. In England frameworks are gradually being phased out for new entrants, and replaced with new ‘Apprenticeship standards’ which have been developed by ‘Trailblazer’ groups within industry. Furthermore, the terms ‘apprenticeship’ and ‘apprentice’ are protected under English law to stop misuse by unauthorised training providers. Different apprenticeship framework systems exist for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Check out the relevant links at the end of this section for details of apprenticeship routes available to you in your location and nation.

Apprenticeships offer:

  • Work based learning – learning and experience ‘on-the-job’ leads to competency that proves that you are proficient in the skills required of the occupation, trade or profession to which the apprenticeship relates, this may include completing a vocational qualification like an NVQ or other recognised equivalent competency based system of learning and assessment, or in Scotland an SVQ.
  • For those apprentices following the new ‘Apprenticeship standards’, their competence must be independently assessed at the end of the apprenticeship, via a graded end-point assessment.
  • Underpinning knowledge and theory – this is typically ‘off-the-job’ technical education related to your occupational pathway, delivered in classrooms and workshops at a college or authorised training centre, this learning will either be incorporated as part of your apprenticeship programme (e.g. Apprenticeship Standards in England), or be certified through a Technical Certificate (e.g. as the knowledge element in Apprenticeship Frameworks in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).
  • Functional skills (e.g. Maths and English) qualifications or a GCSE with enhanced content, and key skills for working in teams, problem-solving, communication and using new technology.
  • Employment Rights and Responsibilities (ERR) – ‘Apprenticeship Frameworks’ in England and Wales incorporate ERR in the workplace – every apprentice on a framework is required to demonstrate that they know and understand the range of employer and employee statutory rights and responsibilities under employment law. These include health and safety and equality and diversity procedures. In Scotland similar content is delivered in the apprenticeship as part of your learning on rights and duties under the Modern Apprenticeship system.
  • On completion of your apprenticeship, whether through an ‘Apprenticeship framework’ or ‘Apprenticeship standard’ route, you'll be qualified to nationally recognised standards in your chosen occupation, trade or profession. That means you can change jobs and take your skills and qualifications with you.

Apprenticeships guidance:

Apprenticeship Frameworks and Apprenticeship Standards:

What are you entitled to?

  • A written contract of employment
  • A ‘Statement of Commitment’ – an agreement between yourself, the employer and training provider (The Statement of Commitment is a requirement in England. In other nations it may be known as an ‘Apprenticeship Agreement’, ‘Deed of Apprenticeship’ of ‘Contract of Apprenticeship’).
  • An Individual Learning Plan / Training Plan between yourself, the employer and the training provider.
  • A full induction in the workplace.
  • A fair wage (see ‘How much do you get paid?’).
  • A safe working environment and protection from discrimination or bullying.
  • Apprenticeships must be a minimum of 12 months in duration in England; however, such short duration apprenticeships typically cover only the most basic Level 2 Intermediate Apprenticeships. Compare this to a Level 3 Advanced Apprenticeships in engineering at typically 36 months duration, or an apprentice electrician on an advanced Level 3 Electrotechnical apprenticeship which typically takes 48 months, and the differences are clear.  
  • Release from work to attend formal training.
  • In England 100 hours or 30% of all guided learning must be delivered off-the-job, and must be verifiable with your registered apprenticeship training provider. Apprentices must spend at least 280 hours in ‘guided learning’ in their first year – this is the bare minimum and many high quality Apprenticeships would see far more hours dedicated to guided learning, running into hundreds of hours. For the devolved nations, refer to the relevant frameworks and their strict criteria on guided learning hours / total qualification time. For Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, requirements vary, therefore if you are unsure, consult your union representative.
  • Provision of an appropriate range of work experiences to enable you to complete your qualifications.
  • Access to support, guidance and mentoring.
  • Quality training.
  • Regular assessments and review of progress.
  • Sufficient time away from work station or desk to study in work time.
  • In England Apprenticeships must have at least a minimum of 30 hours guaranteed as a normal working week.

    (If an apprentice’s personal circumstances  or if the nature of employment in a given sector make it impossible to work these hours, then an absolute minimum of 16 hours a week must be worked. In these exceptional cases, the total duration of the apprenticeship is extended accordingly). (Contractual hours may be more depending on your contract of employment, if for example you are an apprentice working under one of the construction national collective agreements negotiated between Unite and your employers’ trade association, your guaranteed hours, before overtime, would typically be 37 ½ hours per week).
  • The law states that Young workers (under-18) normally will not work more than 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week. With some special exceptions, young workers don't normally work at night. Furthermore, you must have at twelve hours' rest between each working day, and 48 hours' rest per working week.

Your terms and conditions of employment

All apprentices have employed status and are covered by the terms and conditions contained in their contract of employment and any relevant employment legislation.

Your employment contract should cover areas such as: 

  • Working time 
  • Pay 
  • Overtime and allowances 
  • Health and safety 
  • Paid holidays 
  • Sick pay 
  • Protection from discrimination 
  • The right to join a trade union 

How much do you get paid?

The amount paid to employed apprentices, as for all employees, is negotiated with the employer. Pay rates vary between sectors, industry, occupation, regions and between different employers.

Unite help our members in negotiating pay rates, terms and conditions of employment. As the largest trade union in the UK and Ireland with over 1.42 million members, through collective bargaining we have agreements at thousands of workplaces in every sector of the economy, at both company and national level. These include some of the best apprentice pay rates in industry, plus additional allowances, pensions, sick pay and benefits, overtime rates and paid holidays over and above the basic statutory minimums. You can find out more about the sectors Unite members work in by clicking here.

There is an Apprenticeship national minimum wage (NMW) in the UK which applies to all 16 to 18-year-olds and to those aged 19 and over in the first year of their Apprenticeship. The rate from 1st October 2016 is £3.40 per hour, and from 1st April 2017 £3.50 per hour. Once out of your first year of apprenticeship, you are then entitled to, as a minimum, the rate applicable to your age. The rates are subject to an annual review.

However, Unite the Union stress that the National Minimum Wage is exactly that, a minimum.

Even though illegal, just under one in five (18 per cent) of apprentices were not paid the appropriate rate for their age in 2016, according to official government figures from the Low Pay Commission.

If you are not being paid the legal minimum, or the correct rates as per your contract of employment and/or collective agreement, as a member you can confidentially contact your Unite representative , for information, advice, guidance and if required, trade union representation.

Unite the Union generally negotiates pay rates well above that, including rates that get progressively higher and reward you as you successfully progress through the duration of your apprenticeship. According to the 2014 Apprenticeships Pay Survey, average earnings for Level 2 and Level 3 apprentices were £257 a week.

What’s in it for you? 

  • A chance to learn while you earn – to get real work experience 
  • An opportunity to get nationally recognised qualifications and an industry recognised occupation 
  • Access to progression routes to higher education 
  • The possibility of long-term employment with promotion prospects 
  • A chance to learn from experienced workers in the sector 

Where can you apply for an Apprenticeship?

Click here for information and direct links to apprenticeship vacancies and registrations.

Joining Unite

Join Unite online today

  • You can earn more – Trade union members earn, on average, 10 per cent more than non-members. 
  • You could get more holidays – Unions are the people who brought you the weekend. Unite has won better holidays for its members and campaigns to protect your holiday entitlement. 
  • You are less likely to be injured – there are 50 per cent fewer accidents in unionised workplaces. Unite works to ensure employers protect employees from risks to their health and safety. 
  • You will get better maternity or paternity leave – workers in unionised workplaces get better leave. 
  • Support whenever you need it – Without the backing of a union you could face £1200 in fees should you need to take your employer to a tribunal. Unite gives free advice, support and legal representation to all its members so they never have to face problems alone. 
  • You are less likely to be sacked – trade union members are half as likely to be sacked than non-union members. 
  • In or out of work, there is a place for you – Unite Community offers a place for all those out of work, studying or retired –meaning that you are always part of something bigger. 
  • You get more and better training – Union members are more likely to get on with better training and development. Unite has fully trained learning reps to help you update your skills. 
  • You can get better compensation – in 2015, £165 million was won for members and their families by Unite Legal Services. 
  • You are less likely to suffer discrimination – Unite campaigns for tougher anti-discrimination laws. 
  • More job security – the union challenges job cuts and campaigns when workplaces are under threat of closure. Trade Union members are more likely to stay in their jobs longer – on average five years more than non-members. 
  • Be part of an organisation that champions fairness – Unite challenges injustice at work. 

Unite negotiates fair pay and equal treatment in the workplace. Unite also tackles discrimination based on age, race, gender, sexual orientation and disability.

Unite will help ensure your Apprenticeship is high quality and that you are properly supported while you are doing it. Unite will negotiate with employers, making sure you get time off to study or train, and ensuring that you receive impartial information, advice and guidance, and are supported by a mentor.

As an apprentice new to industry and the world of work, you perhaps more than anyone else require a trade union that understands your needs in the modern workplace. It makes sense to have an organisation to turn to that is on your side. Unite is your trade union and can offer expert advice, help and representation when you need it.

Have a voice, take action and make change happen. Join Unite today!

Download the Unite app here.