There is so much information and awareness regarding university finance, however the support available to apprentices is often a very grey area.
Most young people embarking on an apprenticeship will most likely be beginning a level 3 (advanced) apprenticeship, following on from their GCSEs. In this way, apprentices will often live very similarly to A-Level students – hence at their family home, with the same living expenses – as oppose to university students who generally live independently.
Nevertheless, it is essential that those considering an apprenticeship are fully aware of the financial implications. One reason young people opt for apprenticeships, rather than academic study, is because they have the opportunity to learn whilst they earn. However, if this is the only reason why you may be swaying towards an apprenticeship – it may be worth fully examining your expected salary and expenses. For most, the wage of an apprenticeship will not support a lavish lifestyle – or in reality a comfortable one.
As an apprentice you are classed as an employee rather than a student. This means that you are not eligible for student finance (- even if you are taking on an apprenticeship at levels 4+, whilst many of your friends may be enjoying their student loans at university.) Likewise, you are also exempt from student discounts – this could be schemes running on local transport. Although you are also removed from nationwide student discounts, there are alternatives which can help you out. In London you can use the specialised ‘Apprentice Oyster Photo Card’. Similarly, the National Union of Students, best known for supplying the student saving ‘NUS Extra card’, also offer an ‘Apprenticeship Extra card.’
Of course, as an employee you will receive a salary. This can vary significantly from employer to employer. Legally, the national minimum wage (NMW) for apprentices is £3.40/hr. This is actually lower than the standard NMW, however this figure accounts for the fact that in many cases, apprentices will be going into their first job with no experience at all. Equally, together your employer and the government will meet the tuition fees of your apprenticeship. So, your training and qualification is fully covered. Fortunately, this means that you will finish your course with no debt, and in many circumstances – a job offer.
Despite the apprentice NMW being relatively low, some employers do pay in great excess of this. There are examples of both higher and degree apprenticeships offering salaries of between £16,000 and £24,000.
In many instances, apprenticeships may advertise a ‘competitive salary.’ This means either that the salary and benefits will be in line with similar roles at other organisations. Or it could be dependent on your current skills and experience. Either way, before beginning your apprenticeship, or accepting your offer, you need to determine how much your salary will be. Obviously, this could significantly impact your standard of life and also influence whether or not you accept the position.
As well as a salary, apprenticeship providers may also supply you with other financial benefits. These could include a pensions scheme, access to a car, leisure facilities and a relocation allowance if you have to move. All of these things are definitely things to scout out before you venture into your apprenticeship.
Above all of the financial implications, which may be quite demotivating – or in fact very rewarding, possibly the biggest attraction of an apprenticeship is the hands-on experience and industry expertise that you’ll acquire. Apprenticeships often follow a more interpersonal structure, with less hard and fast rules of progression, salary and structure. They do not simply translate academic grades into top salaries, there is more development and training. So, although it is fundamental that you assess the financial implications of an apprenticeship, if you think it could be a good route for you, be aware of – but don’t simply let the start salary deter you.
-By Steph Ryan