How to employ an apprentice


Could your business do with an extra pair of hands? Do you want to do your bit for society by helping youngsters get on the employment ladder?

By taking on an apprentice, you'll be doing yourself, your community and your sector a favour. And with government funding and support, the process should be neither as complicated nor as costly as you might think.

Read on for our guide to taking on an apprentice and why you should make sure that all your employees and their work are properly covered by commercial insurance.

What is an apprentice?

According to the Government's definition, "apprentices are aged 16 or over and combine working with studying to gain skills and knowledge in a specific job.”

They need to work with experienced staff learning skills for their trade and have time to study at an off-site college or training organisation during their working week. In 2016/17, almost half a million people began apprenticeships in the UK, of which around one quarter were aged 19 or under.

Although most apprentices are young and learning a practical trade, there are really no restrictions on their age, background, or field of work.
Older people seeking a career change, for example, could become apprentices, bringing their skills and knowledge from their previous line of work to a new sector.

Some school leavers may also choose an apprenticeship as a route to gaining qualifications for roles that have traditionally required university study, such as
becoming a solicitor.

Existing employees at your company who are looking to upskill could also apply for an apprenticeship with you.

But whoever your new apprentice is, you'll need commercial insurance to cover your employers' liability towards him or her.

Note that apprenticeship programmes are devolved to the UK's regions. This guide explains the English system, and there may be certain key differences if you are based in other parts of the UK.
An apprentice using a saw on a bench

Do I need an apprentice?

There are several great reasons why an apprentice can be the perfect new team member for your company.

Ever had trouble finding a tradesperson to help your company complete a job on time? An apprentice can be a valuable member of your team, helping out more experienced colleagues so that projects are completed within deadline and to the client's satisfaction.  

In many trades, there is a skills shortage. By taking on an apprentice, you get to work with a training provider to shape your apprentice's learning to suit your company's requirements. That means you are helping to plug the skills gap for your own company, and for future generations.

Apprentices will also be studying at a college or training centre, so their knowledge will be up to date – they might even be able to teach you a few things, and keep you and your colleagues aware of the latest developments in your sector. They will be eager to keep standards high so they can pass their exams and get their first proper job.

Furthermore, you can train your apprentice to complete tasks to your company's standards. Rather than take on a qualified staff member who has perhaps picked up bad habits or a tendency to cut corners, you'll be employing an apprentice who takes pride in applying their new skills to the very best of their ability.

And if they prove to be skilled at the job and a good fit for your business, you can employ them on a long-term basis once they're qualified – helping to secure your company's talent pipeline.

Types and levels of apprenticeships

The days are long gone when an apprentice was simply a young lad helping out a master builder with whatever tasks cropped up.

Nowadays, there are apprenticeships in every sector, from care work to design to accountancy. They all have to be approved and meet robust standards set by the employer-led Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education.

As an employer, you'll need to work with a registered training provider. The provider will not only provide training for your apprentice, but should be able to help you ensure that you can provide an appropriate working and learning environment for your new team member.

You need to decide what level of apprenticeship you could offer. Levels vary from 2, which is equivalent to five GCSE passes, right up to 7, which is equivalent to a Master's degree.

Those applying for the higher levels might already have A levels or other Level 3 qualifications, while those looking for a Level 2 apprenticeship are likely to have few or no qualifications.

Remember – no matter what your sector, you need commercial insurance to cover all aspects of business life including employers' and public liability.
An apprentice shadowing a co-worker writing notes

How much will it cost?

This might seem a little complicated to work out at first, as it is dependent on several factors.

Firstly, there's the working element of an apprenticeship. You, as the employer, need to pay your apprentice at least the minimum wage, which varies according to their age and the stage of the apprenticeship.

For under-19s in the first year of their apprentice, the minimum wage is currently £3.90 per hour, rising to £8.21 per hour for those aged 25-plus who've already completed the first year.

For that, you'll get a new team member – remember to make sure you've got protection in place to cover their work if something goes wrong.

Secondly, there's the training and assessment element. The amount you contribute towards this varies depending on the size of your organisation, and the age of the apprentice.

If you're an employer with an employee pay bill of more than £3 million per year, you'll need to pay the apprenticeship levy whether or not you take on an apprentice. This is handled by HMRC and levied through the PAYE process.

You'll then receive funds through the apprenticeship service to pay for training and assessment, with the Government adding an extra £10%.

If you don't need to pay the levy, you will pay the training provider directly. You contribute 5%, while the Government contributes 95%, up to the funding band maximum.

If you have fewer than 50 employees working for you, you won't have to pay even that 5% for younger apprentices: those aged 16-18, or those aged 19-24 in certain circumstances.

All employers who take on younger apprentices will also receive £1,000 from the Government.

The apprenticeship system is managed by the devolved regions, so you'll need to contact your local English, Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish programme for more information and to apply for funding.

How long can an apprenticeship last?

Apprenticeships can take between one and five years to complete. Obviously, lower levels tend to be quicker to complete than higher levels.

On average, an intermediate Level 2 apprenticeship might take around 12 to 18 months, while it takes around two years to complete an advanced Level 3.

To achieve a qualification in a high-level field such as engineering takes several years.
An apprentice working on a computer learning from a co-worker

What’s the difference between an apprentice and trainee?

Traineeships are also Government-backed vocational schemes, but are not as involved or as high level as apprenticeships.  

A traineeship is simply a course that includes a work placement, usually lasting from a few weeks up to around six months. They're unpaid, though may include expenses.

They're designed for young people aged between 16 and 24 who have little or no work experience and have no qualifications at Level 3 or above.

Often, traineeships can be a stepping stone towards a full apprenticeship, giving youngsters the basic skills they need to start a more rigorous programmes of training and work.

Apprentices have all the same rights as an employee. You will have to give them a contract, and if you sell your business, the new owners will have to honour that contract just as for any other employee. However, any new owners would not have to keep on trainees.

For apprenticeships, both the apprentice and the employer must agree if the contract is to be terminated after the probationary period. For traineeships, either side can cancel independently.

Both trainees and apprentices are covered by health and safety law, and you will need employers' liability cover as part of your commercial insurance.

What do I need to offer apprentices?

So you've decided to take on an apprentice at your company? Great news!

It is a considerable commitment, but also an investment that is likely to pay huge dividends for your business.

The best place to start is with the Government's own apprenticeship service, which offers not only online guides but also telephone advice.

This service aims to steer you through the process of setting up an apprenticeship, helping you decide on the level you can offer, and finding the right training provider partner for your company.

With your training provider, you can then devise a programme together that will suit your business requirements as well as provide rigorous skills training and assessment.

You'll have to permit the apprentice to take an agreed amount of time out of work for training and study leave. In addition, you are also expected to appoint a mentor and offer ongoing support.

Remember – all apprentices and employees should be covered for any accidents at work by your commercial insurance.
An apprentice welding on a construction site

How do I hire an apprentice?

With your apprenticeship programme agreed, you can start to look for candidates, if you don't already have someone in mind.

Remember that they will need to have the right to work in the UK. It's your duty to check that, and that they have any qualifications they will need.

You can advertise your apprenticeship in several places: on the Government's website, at your local job centre, in trade magazines and so on.

If you're looking to take on a school leaver, contact local schools to see if they know of any pupils who might be interested. Your training provider will also advertise for candidates through their own channels.

When writing the advert, make sure it's clear and detailed to ensure you get a high calibre of suitable candidates.

Once applications are in, it's time for interviews. Follow interview good practice: prepare a list of standard questions to put to all candidates, so they are all on an equal footing and treated fairly.

Getting your new apprentice started

If you're used to taking on new employees, then you will find a great deal of the process very similar for apprentices.

You'll need to provide an induction, a contract, wages, national insurance contributions and benefits such as holiday or maternity pay.

Your contract must include an apprenticeship statement signed by both of you setting out the employment arrangements; and a signed commitment statement stating how you will support the apprenticeship.

If your apprentice is young, remember that this is probably their first job. When giving them their induction, don't assume that certain elements of your workplace or working practices are obvious – take them through everything slowly and carefully, and make sure they've understood.

If your apprentice is your first employee, remember to ensure that you have employers' liability as part of your commercial insurance.

Finally, make sure they feel part of the team. Introduce them to everybody, involve them in social events, and take an interest in them as a person. Hopefully, they're going to be a big part of your company's life for a long time to come.
An apprentice using a spirit level

Protecting your business and your employees

Employing an apprentice is a big step for many businesses, so it's important to ensure you're fully covered through your commercial insurance.

Insurance Choice Commercial covers sectors ranging from beauty salons to contractors and roofers to waste businesses, offering competitive policies tailored to your company's specific requirements.

Policies can include cover for legal expenses, employers' liability, public liability, personal accident, and business interruption.

Equipment such as tools can be covered, as can buildings and contents, and goods in transit.

Insurance Choice Commercial has been arranging low-cost, high-value insurance for more than 20 years, offering flexible payment solutions such as monthly instalments to help your business thrive.

Contact us today to get a quote.