Engineering apprenticeships explained
You can start a career in engineering at many different levels, whether you have a handful of GCSEs or a PhD. A higher apprenticeship or a degree apprenticeship are the most relevant choices for you if you’re taking your A levels, Highers, International Baccalaureate or an NVQ level 3 but don’t want to go to university full time once you’ve finished.
Lower levels of apprenticeship are also available (intermediate and advanced) but these are targeted at those leaving school without A levels or equivalent.
Working and studying at the same time
A higher or degree apprenticeship involves joining an employer as a member of staff, earning a salary and having a proper job to do. However, you will also spend some of your time studying at college or at university. You might do this ‘little and often’, for example one day a week, or in blocks of a week or two at a time.
Your employer will decide which institution you study at and which course you take. However, it will also pay your fees for you.
What types of jobs are available on higher and degree apprenticeships?
You can get into pretty much any area of engineering via a higher or degree apprenticeship. Read up on types of jobs and employers in engineering. Examples include:
- Training as a civil or electrical engineer working in the construction industry, creating computer aided design (CAD) drawings and making calculations.
- Helping to design or manufacture luxury cars.
- Becoming a police engineer, using your technical know-how to help detect crime.
- Designing and improving combat systems for a defence company.
- Learning to be a broadcast engineer, helping to ensure the quality of pictures and sound.
Different types of qualifications you might work towards on an engineering apprenticeship
Engineering higher apprenticeships can involve working towards a range of different qualifications, depending on the individual employer. These can include:
- NVQs or SVQs at levels 2 to 4 (vocational qualifications that assess your competence in your particular type of job – SVQs are the Scottish version)
- an HNC (a level 4 qualification that’s equivalent to the first year of a degree)
- an HND (a level 5 qualification that’s equivalent to the first two years of a degree)
- a foundation degree (a level 5 qualification that’s equivalent to two thirds of a degree – typically employers have input into the content and they’re designed with a particular job in mind)
A degree apprenticeship will involve working towards a full bachelors degree or even a masters degree.
What to find out about the qualifications you will receive
When looking at apprenticeships that interest you, check the following:
- what qualifications you will receive on that particular scheme
- whether you will definitely get the chance to study for all the qualifications or if it depends on how well you perform
- if a degree is mentioned, whether it is a foundation degree, a bachelors degree or a masters degree
- whether your apprenticeship and/or the qualifications you will gain are recognised by a professional body (see below).
Getting the right qualifications to become professionally registered
Many engineers choose to become professionally registered a few years into their careers – this means that a professional body has confirmed that you have the skills and knowledge to do your job well. See our article on how to get into engineering for more detail.
Becoming professionally registered is easiest if the qualifications you study for are recognised by the relevant professional body. For example, if you want to be a mechanical engineer, this would usually be the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. So find out whether your course is accredited (if it’s a full degree) or approved (if it’s a lower-level qualification). You can look this up on the professional body’s website or the Engineering Council’s website (the umbrella organisation for engineering professional bodies in the UK).
Some professional bodies, such as the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) also approve whole apprenticeship schemes.
There are different levels of professional registration, so check whether the qualifications offered provide an easy route to one you want. Again, see our advice on how to get into engineering. If you want to become a chartered engineer eventually (the highest level), the simplest route is with a masters degree. However, these don’t tend to be offered on higher apprenticeships and are only on a few degree apprenticeships.
If the answer is ‘no’, it’s worth asking employers whether there would be the chance to carry on studying if you were taken on full time after you finish your apprenticeship.
Where to find engineering higher and degree apprenticeship vacancies
Ready to start searching for vacancies? Try the following.
- The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) has a helpful list of its approved apprenticeship schemes, which you can download from the IET website (NB some of these employers only offer lower-level apprenticeships.)
- An internet search for ‘engineering higher apprenticeships’ or 'engineering degree apprenticeships' also brings up a number of schemes.
See our article on getting into engineering to find out the subjects and grades that engineering employers ask for.
Where in the country will I find an engineering higher or degree apprenticeship?
Opportunities exist in all different parts of the country. However, you might need to look further afield than your home town.
Your employer will typically send you to a school or college that’s relatively close to where you work. However, some higher apprenticeships can involve quite a bit of travel (eg to work on different employer or client sites), so you may then need to get yourself back for lectures.
Terminology: degree apprenticeships and sponsored degrees
A degree apprenticeship is what is says on the tin. It tends to last for around six years and you'll usually study for a bachelors degree while also working for your employer.
Degree apprenticeships are different from getting sponsorship from an employer for a full-time degree. Sponsorship involves going to university in the traditional way but finding a company to contribute towards the cost, perhaps in exchange for promising to work for it after you graduate. Find out how to get sponsored for a full time engineering degree.