Apprenticeships in Northern Ireland
The quantity of people participating in apprenticeships in Northern Ireland has been steadily increasing over the past 10 years. More and more people are seeing how an apprenticeship can be a fantastic alternative to a degree, with the added bonus of getting experience and earning money whilst studying.
As we slowly drift away from the traditional further education framework of full time paid study, NI’s educational field is gradually growing with opportunities for alternative means of getting qualified. There is no doubt that having the opportunity to study while receiving on the job mentorship helps immensely when trying to learn a new skill and plays a big role in becoming proficient within your field.
The gradual shift in perception of apprenticeships as a valuable and valid alternative to undergraduate study is clearly represented by the numbers of participants in NI. Between 2013 and 2017 over 44,000 thousand people took part in the Apprenticeships NI programme, out of which 48% had completed an apprenticeship at Level 2, and 42% at Level 3.
Some of the most popular, and longest running apprenticeship programmes have been within the Electrotechnical, Food manufacture and Engineering categories. When the NI Apprenticeship Programme first started in 2007, the public perception of apprenticeships was that they were an entryway to mostly practical, physical, and ‘hands-on’ careers, such as electrician, plumber and engineer. As much as these fields still prove popular, there is a plethora of industries which now regularly engage in apprenticeship programmes, with I.T seeing the biggest growth in the recent years.
So…What exactly is an apprenticeship?
Apprenticeships combine work and study by mixing on the job training with classroom learning. Most apprenticeships work by providing you with full time employment, where you will get to grips with your job often under the mentorship of a senior staff member. This is usually accompanied by a ‘’day release’’, to attend college where you will cover theory related to your field of choice.
The reason this model works is because it offers a solution to the ‘’need work to get experience, need experience to get work’’ phenomena, often troubling many school leavers. It is also a fantastic option for those who may not be in a financial position to invest in further education, but wish to gain further qualifications as every apprenticeship will enable you to make money while you learn.
Many apprentices are offered jobs at the companies where they originally trained, meaning post completion of their qualification they are free to progress within the company.
The different Levels of Apprenticeships
There are currently three different levels of apprenticeships offered as part of the Apprenticeships NI programme:
- Level 2 Apprenticeships
- Level 3 Apprenticeships
- Higher Level Apprenticeships (level 4 – 8)
Each apprenticeship normally lasts two years, and is equivalent to a different level of education. For example, Level 2 Apprenticeships provide you with a Level 2 Diploma upon completion which is equivalent to 5 GCSEs. Level 3 Apprenticeships on the other hand are considered to be the equivalent to A-Levels. Anything above that, such as Level 4 (HNC), Level 5 (HND) are considered to be Higher Level Apprenticeships, often requiring you to have already completed GCSEs or A-Levels in a relevant field.
The minimum age requirement for commencing Level 2 & Level 3 apprenticeships is 16. Many teenagers now choose apprenticeships instead of A-Levels to earn money while they study, and to get an early start on their careers as well as start gaining valuable experience in a field of their choice. Another reason why apprenticeships are a fantastic option for those who may not need to go to University to progress in their field of choice is that you are given an opportunity to try and see whether you really like the job before investing in further education.
Higher level apprenticeships often require you to have already completed a Level 3 qualification or above meaning they are more appropriate for people over the age of 18. As the apprenticeship wage does not apply to higher level apprentices, this is a perfect option for those looking for a career change as it doesn’t require them to go into full time education, and enables them to earn at least a minimum wage for their age.
Apprenticeship salaries and wages depend on the type of apprenticeship you sign up for.
Level 2 & 3 Apprenticeship programmes pay what is called an apprenticeship wage if you are under the age of 19, or simply in the first year of your apprenticeship. Right now, the apprenticeship wage in Northern Ireland is £4.30 an hour. If you are over the age of 19 and have completed the first year of your apprenticeship, you are entitled to the minimum wage for your age until your apprenticeship is complete.
Here’s a useful table allowing you to compare all types of minimum wages across Northern Ireland and the Uk.
|Age||Current rates (February 2022)|
|23 and over (NLW)||£8.91|
|21 to 22||£8.36|
|18 to 20||£6.56|
*If under the age of 19, or in the first year of their apprenticeship.
Higher level apprenticeships are exempt from the apprenticeship wage as they often expect people to already possess some professional skills that they can utilise in the workplace. This is why if you are doing a higher level apprenticeship in Northern Ireland you can expect to receive the minimum wage for age or more (if you possess skills in different areas that the employer might find particularly useful).
How do I find an Employer for an Apprenticeship?
If you apply for an apprenticeship programme, the college that you applied through may have a pool of employers who have previously expressed interest in taking on an apprentice. There are many employers out there that have a running contract with colleges in Northern Ireland where the college supplies them with apprentices annually, whilst the employer carries out the on-the-job training.
Don’t forget, an apprenticeship is meant to provide you with a formally recognised qualification upon completion hence why you need to go through your local further education college first.
Some college/employer partnerships might work in a way where the entire class is guaranteed an apprenticeship within the same workplace. This commonly happens in mechanical and engineering industries where companies employ hundreds of people. In other industries you might find that everybody in your class might have a different employer.
Sometimes, particularly in the case of Higher Level Apprenticeships, you might be asked to submit an updated CV when applying for your apprenticeship. This CV will then be circulated across the College’s pool of employers in your relevant industry who will then offer interviews to applicants to choose an apprentice they think might best suit them.
Your best place to look to find an apprenticeship will be your local further education college’s website. If you are not sure what the college closest to you is, here is a run down of all the further education colleges across Northern Ireland and locations of their campuses:
- Belfast Metropolitan College with four campuses across Belfast
- North West Regional College with campuses in Derry/Londonderry, Limavady and Strabane
- Northern Regional College with campuses in Ballymena, Ballymoney, Coleraine, Larne, Magherafelt and Newtownabbey
- South Eastern Regional College with campuses in Ballinahinch, Bangor, Downpatrick, Lisburn, Newcastle, Newtownwards, Carrowdore and Holywood
- South West College with campuses in Cookstown, Dungannon, Enniskillen and Omagh
- Southern Regional College with campuses in Armagh, Banbridge, Kilkeel, Lurgan, Newry, Portadown
Alternatively, the NI direct apprenticeship page will give you a run down of all apprenticeships currently available across Northern Ireland: Apprenticeships | nidirect
You can also keep an eye on our social media as we post about I.T. apprenticeship opportunities as they become available.