Apprenticeships in Scotland

The Scottish flag - apprenticeships in Scotland
Take a foundation apprenticeship before leaving school, or earn and learn on a modern apprenticeship or graduate apprenticeship. Discover the options, and learn more from a modern apprentice.

In Scotland there are three types of apprenticeship:

Foundation apprenticeships are completed while still at school as just one aspect of your studies, while modern apprenticeships and graduate apprenticeships are full-time programmes that combine earning and learning. On both modern and graduate apprenticeships you can expect to spend about 80% of your time working and 20% studying. Below we outline the three options in more detail, and speak to a 20-year-old who’s just finished a digital creative modern apprenticeship.

Foundation apprenticeships

Foundation apprenticeships are unpaid opportunities to gain work experience and a qualification. You do them while still at school (usually in S5 and S6) alongside your other school subjects, taking time out of the classroom on a regular basis to spend time with an employer. They typically take two years, though occasionally a student may complete one in a single year.

Areas in which foundation apprenticeships are offered include:

  • accountancy
  • business skills
  • civil engineering
  • creative and digital media
  • engineering
  • financial services
  • food and drink technology
  • IT: hardware and system support
  • IT: software development
  • scientific technologies (lab skills)
  • social services (children and young people)
  • social services and healthcare.

What qualifications do you need to get onto a foundation apprenticeship?

Usually you need three or four National 5s to get onto a foundation apprenticeship; the specific subjects required will depend on which of the areas you are applying for. For example IT roles might ask for maths, physics and/or computing whereas the social services apprenticeships might require English or another English-based subject.

What qualification do you get from foundation apprenticeship?

A foundation apprenticeship is a qualification in its own right and is at the same level on the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) as a Higher. If you choose to go on to university after school the foundation apprenticeship will count towards the entry requirements alongside Highers. However, a foundation apprenticeship can also include within it an SVQ or National Certificate (NC).

How are foundation apprenticeships advertised?

Foundation apprenticeships are not advertised as such – you have to apply via your school, as they sit alongside your academic subjects. Not every school offers foundation apprenticeships in all career areas.

What can you do after a foundation apprenticeship?

Once you’ve finished your foundation apprenticeship (and your Highers/Advanced Highers) you might choose to go to university or to apply for jobs, taking advantage of the fact that you have work experience and a recognised qualification in a particular career area. Alternatively, you might choose to do a full-time, paid apprenticeship – either a modern apprenticeship or a graduate apprenticeship.

Modern apprenticeships

Modern apprenticeships involve getting paid while working for an employer and training part time. This is the main apprenticeship option in Scotland and the one that compares most closely with intermediate/advanced apprenticeships in England.

There are different levels of modern apprenticeship, ranging from level 5 on the SCQF (equivalent to National 5s) to level 7 (equivalent to Advanced Highers). There are also around 80 different career areas to choose from.

What qualifications do you need to get onto a modern apprenticeship?

Entry qualifications vary considerably depending on the specific vacancy. Some don’t ask for any qualifications and others ask for two to three Highers plus four to five National 5s.

How long do modern apprenticeships take?

Modern apprenticeships usually take two years to complete, but could be anything between one and four years long, depending on the level, qualification, industry sector and prior skills or experience of the apprentice, such as having a foundation apprenticeship.

What qualification do you get when you complete a modern apprenticeship?

Modern apprenticeships are qualifications in their own right, and are made up of an SVQ, core skills and industry-specific training.

Does completing a modern apprenticeship typically lead to a job offer?

Completing a modern apprenticeship puts you in a good position to get a permanent job, either with the employer or with a similar organisation; however there are no guarantees.

Graduate apprenticeships

Graduate apprenticeships involve taking a university-level qualification part time while working for an employer in a paid job that relates to your studies. Your tuition fees will be paid for you. Graduate apprenticeships are open both to those who haven’t been to university, and to those who have (if studying a different subject, or the same subject to a higher level).

What types of graduate apprenticeship are there?

Different types of graduate apprenticeship available include:

  • accounting
  • business management (including financial services)
  • construction and the built environment
  • civil engineering
  • cyber security
  • data science
  • early learning and childcare
  • engineering: design and manufacture
  • engineering: instrumentation, measurement and control
  • IT: management for business
  • IT: software development

What qualifications do you need to get onto a graduate apprenticeship?

To get onto a graduate apprenticeship you need similar qualifications to what’s required to study that subject at university, for example four Highers. Grades and subjects needed depend on the specific vacancy.

How long do graduate apprenticeships take?

Graduate apprenticeships usually take around four years if you’re working towards an undergraduate honours degree.

What qualification do you get when you complete a graduate apprenticeship?

The qualification you get when you finish your graduate apprenticeship will vary depending upon which of the options you apply for. Most lead to a honours degree (level 10 on the SCQF) but some lead to a diploma of higher education (level 8) or a masters degree (level 11).

Meet the apprentice

To give you a flavour for what apprenticeships are like in practice, TARGETcareers spoke to a 20-year-old who has just completed a one-year digital creative modern apprenticeship with Young Scot and the Scottish Government, getting involved in design, communications and PR tasks. She’s now continuing to work there for a further six months.

I decided to do an apprenticeship after one year of university – I discovered I was not into sitting and learning and would much rather ‘do’. Working, earning and learning was the perfect way to do this.

I have a unique apprenticeship; I am split between Young Scot and the Scottish Government’s comms (communications) team. My day-to-day work includes many things from creating graphics for social media to digital engagement. Over the last week I have:

  • run a workshop at the NHS 70th birthday event
  • interviewed the first minister
  • edited content to be put on Twitter
  • facilitated a ministerial meting
  • ran workshops for PING (a young parents’ group).

Best and worst bits of my apprenticeship

I have an hour’s train journey to and from work and due to the nature of my role I work quite a lot of evenings and weekends. When you build in travel it doesn't leave me much free time! I also found working in the Scottish Government quite lonely as there were only two of us in my team and so I ended up spending a lot of lunch breaks alone. I was however given amazing opportunities, from royal visits to ministerial activities – it gave me a full outlook on the different areas of PR. In the future I hope to work in the third sector in youth engagement.

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