Apprenticeships in Northern Ireland
Apprenticeships are a compelling prospect for any school leaver in Northern Ireland. You’ll gain a recognised qualification while working for an employer, earning a wage and gaining lots of experience.
Who can be an apprentice in Northern Ireland?
To take up an apprenticeship in NI, you need to be over 16 years old and available to work for a minimum of 21 hours a week (including study time). If you are already working and meet these criteria, you can ask your employer if you could do an apprenticeship with them. Otherwise, you will need to apply for apprenticeships – in the same way that you would apply for any other job.
Some restrictions apply to apprenticeships in Northern Ireland for people who are 25 years old and over. If this applies to you, find out more about which sectors offer apprenticeships that you can apply for, and what terms and conditions may apply.
What is an apprenticeship?
An apprenticeship is a structured programme of work and training.
- As an apprentice in Northern Ireland, you will be paid (including for the time spent at college – typically one day a week).
- The qualification that you study towards will be externally accredited and will follow a clear framework.
- Your employer will fund your qualification.
- You are entitled to paid holidays and the same benefits that other employees get.
What qualifications could I work towards with an apprenticeship in NI?
Apprenticeships in Northern Ireland must all follow a clear framework that is set out by the government. This means that you will be working towards an accredited qualification that will be widely recognised. Most apprentices work towards a level 2 or level 3 qualification, such as an NVQ, that’s specific to the industry they’re working in. However, it’s also possible to work towards an HND, BTEC or university degree. Because you’re working at the same time as studying, you’ll also have the chance to put what you’re learning into practice in real life.
Broadly speaking, there are three main kinds of apprenticeship in Northern Ireland. These are as follows:
- Level 2 apprenticeships. Broadly equivalent to five GCSEs above grade C.
- Level 3 apprenticeships. Broadly equivalent to two A levels.
- Higher level apprenticeships (levels 4–7). Broadly equivalent to a wide range of higher qualifications, including HNCs, HNDs, BTECs, foundation degrees, honours degrees and masters degrees.
The majority of apprenticeships in Northern Ireland are at levels 2 or 3. Many school leavers start with a level 2 apprenticeship, but your existing qualifications and experience might also allow you to start at level 3 or above – for example, if you have good GCSEs, A levels, other equivalent qualifications, or experience that is relevant to the job. You can also progress from one level of apprenticeship to the next.
Previously, the highest percentage of higher apprenticeships have been in subjects relating to science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and particularly in engineering and manufacturing technologies. These may also be advertised on higher education institute websites as well as by employers.
How long will I be an apprentice for?
Apprenticeships in Northern Ireland generally last for between one and four years – although there’s no set length. On average, it usually takes two years to complete each level. This is based on a typical work pattern of working for four days a week and being on day release at college for one day a week.
What are employers are looking for in an apprentice?
Employers understand that you won't have a great deal of experience to start with, but you will need:
- transferable skills such as self-motivation, enthusiasm, organisational skills and communication/interpersonal ability
- a genuine interest in the role, organisation and industry
- the ability to work hard and to balance study with work
- any particular aptitudes that match the role – for example, an apprenticeship as a manufacturing technician may require basic mechanical skills while an apprenticeship in accounting is likely to require good maths skills.
What wages can apprentices in NI earn?
As an apprentice, you will be paid for your working hours as well as for the time you spend on training that’s part of your apprenticeship – usually day release at college for one day a week. Salary levels generally reflect the fact that apprenticeships are entry-level roles and that the employer is also funding the time spent learning. The average wages an apprentice can expect will also vary depending on the employer and sector.
An apprentice in Northern Ireland is eligible for the apprentice minimum wage. This rate applies to everyone in their first year of an apprenticeship. However, apprentices aged over 19 who have already completed their first year should be paid at least the minimum wage rate for their age. Of course, some employers offer wages that are significantly higher than this.
What could I do as an apprentice?
Previously, the most popular apprenticeships were in electrotechnical, engineering and food manufacturing. Other major industries where apprenticeships are available in Northern Ireland include construction, manufacturing, business and management, health and social care, retail, and hospitality and leisure.
Are apprenticeships in NI different from elsewhere in the UK?
Apprenticeships in Northern Ireland differ from apprenticeships elsewhere in the UK in three key ways:
- The apprenticeships on offer reflect the local industries and the skills that are particularly needed in your area.
- Apprenticeships in NI follow very specific frameworks that are set out by the government.
- Because apprenticeship funding in Northern Ireland is aimed primarily at 16–24 year olds, there are restrictions on the areas that people over 25 can go into as apprentices. This is not the case elsewhere in the UK.
Can I apply for apprenticeships elsewhere in the UK?
You can apply for apprenticeships anywhere, as long as you’re prepared to move there! Check the job descriptions as some apprenticeships may have specific requirements (for example age, place of residence, or qualifications) in terms of who can apply.
What job prospects will I have after completing an apprenticeship in NI?
In Northern Ireland, apprenticeships are permanent positions – so you will continue to have a job after you finish the apprenticeship. By this point you will have an accredited qualification, hands-on experience and contacts in the industry, so you’ll be in a good position to apply for other higher level roles with that organisation, or other employers in the same industry. You could also move on to an apprenticeship at the next level with the same employer or a different one.
When should I apply for apprenticeships in Northern Ireland?
Apprenticeships are advertised constantly, so you should apply when you see one that you think you would be a good fit for. If you are still at school, you can explain when you will be available for work. Many employers advertise early (for example at the beginning of the year or in the spring) for apprenticeships that will begin when the current school year is over. Many employers also advertise apprenticeships with an immediate start, which could suit you if you have finished school already.
Where can I find apprenticeships advertised?
Apprenticeships can advertised anywhere – including through recruitment agencies, on jobs listing boards and on employers’ websites. Good places to start looking for apprenticeships include: