What do the different apprenticeship levels mean and which one is right for me or my business?

Posted by Yesim Saylam |   2nd August 2017

What do the different apprenticeship levels mean and which one is right for me or my business?

Apprenticeships in England come in levels 2 to 8, but what does that actually mean and which one is right for you or your business?

Apprenticeships are a different way of learning. Instead of purely academic study, they comprise of on the job training and assessment combined with 20% study time and in many cases industry specific qualifications. In this way they are very much tailored to the specific role that the employer has in their organisation.

But understanding what level of apprenticeship is needed can be tricky, what’s the difference between a level 2 and a level 8? The table below sets out the different levels and their traditional academic equivalents.

Apprenticeships start at level 2

 Apprenticeship level Academic equivalent Length of time to complete apprenticeship
2 GCSE grade A-C ~1 year
3 A level ~12-18 months
4 Certificate of higher education/ HNC ~2 years
5 Foundation degree/ HND ~2.5 years
6 Bachelors Degree ~ 3-4 years
7 Masters Degree ~4-5 years
8 PhD ~5-6 years

You might think that going for the highest possible level of qualification is the best option, but as you can see from the table, higher level apprenticeships take longer to complete. They also have tougher entry criteria.

So which level is the right one?
The answer to this is dependent on the role that the apprenticeship is for and is specific to the business in question. Different levels of apprenticeships qualify the learner for different things. Employers need to work out the requirements of the role and select the level of apprenticeship that matches that.

I can’t find a suitable applicant for the level of apprenticeship I want
Employers consistently tell us that what they value most in their staff is attitude and work ethic. This is where apprenticeships come into their own as a means of staff development.

If you have a great candidate who’s academic qualifications aren’t sufficient for the level of apprenticeship you want, then the simple solution is to lower the level of the apprenticeship you are offering (e.g. from a level 3 to a level 2). Lower level apprenticeships include English and Maths qualifications for those who need them and once completed are sufficient to progress to the next level.

So if you’ve found the perfect candidate for your organisation, you can start them at a level 2 apprenticeship and eventually progress them onto whatever level is necessary for the role.
*It’s worth noting that some apprenticeships are only available at certain levels e.g. Ambulance Practitioner Apprenticeship is always level 4.

What do the different levels cost?
The cost of an apprenticeship is not necessarily dependent on the level of the apprenticeship. The cost of each type of apprenticeship varies e.g. a level 3 Care Worker apprenticeship and level 3 Infrastructure Technician apprenticeship will have different prices. The cost of each type of apprenticeship is set by government and can be viewed online. There is also funding available to reduce the cost for SME’s.

Apprentices themselves do not pay anything for their apprenticeships; the cost is paid by the employer, government or a combination of the two.

I need some help and advice
We offer free advice for employers and apprentices.

I’m in Scotland
Apprenticeship levels work differently in Scotland and have recently undergone an overhaul. For advice relating to Scottish apprenticeships please contact our Glasgow office.