construction apprenticeships

Getting started in the UK construction industry: everything you need to know 

If you’re thinking of joining the UK construction industry but have no idea where to even get started, look no further – here at TOOLKiT we’ve put together everything you need to know to get your construction career jumpstarted today.  

a young man and his mentor during his apprenticeship

First, let’s get the basics out of the way: there are three main tiers of jobs in the construction industry – unskilled, skilled, and technical/management. 

Unskilled work is pretty much what it says on the tin: general site labour for workers with very basic tasks, and/or without construction qualifications. Skilled professionals, on the other hand, have extensive experience and knowledge in a trade, like plumbing or carpentry. Technical and management roles are for those with the highest qualifications (usually a university degree), and for senior professionals who manage the wider construction process. 

But how do you get your foot in the door? Nowadays, construction apprenticeship schemes are more popular than ever and for good reason. Intermediate apprenticeships – also commonly known as Level 2 apprenticeships – are the starting level of the modern apprenticeship, and for the duration of the scheme, an apprentice will split their time between the workplace, and a training centre or college. 

With the scheme lasting between 12 and 18 months, construction apprentices work for a company or employer in the industry, while simultaneously studying towards a qualification on the side. At the end of the course, an apprentice will have both nationally certified qualifications and extensive work experience – can you get any more employable than that? 

However, apprenticeships don’t stop there. After completing a Level 2 scheme, apprentices can choose to continue to study and obtain more qualifications through further schemes without needing to stop working in the industry. Here are some of the options you’ll have ahead of you once you finish your intermediate apprenticeship: 

  • Advanced Apprenticeship – Level 3: the equivalent of 2 A-level passes, a Level 3 Diploma or International Baccalaureate 
  • Higher Apprenticeship – Levels 4 and 5: the equivalent of a Foundation Degree and above 
  • Degree Apprenticeship – Levels 6 and 7: the equivalent of a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree. (These are the newest level of apprenticeship, introduced by the government in 2015) 

So, what are the entry requirements for apprenticeships? Well, these tend to vary from scheme to scheme but there are a few things you can usually count on. 

Intermediate Apprenticeships – Level 2: 

  • These schemes are designed for school and college leavers, between the ages of 16-24. 
  • Employers typically look for candidates with two or more GCSEs (9-4), with passes in English and Maths (although some employers will accept applicants without GCSEs if they have any prior, relevant work experience). 

Advanced Apprenticeships – Level 3: 

  • Entry is typical via progression from the relevant Level 2 apprenticeship. 
  • Can be accessed by a professional who has already gained significant work experience in their occupational area, which could be considered as meeting the requirements of the relevant Level 2 framework. 

Higher Apprenticeships – Levels 4 and 5: 

  • Applicants must be aged 18 or above. 
a young women during her apprenticeship
  • Typically expected to have achieved at least 5 GCSEs at Grades 4-9 including Maths, English and Science or their equivalent. 
  • In addition, candidates may also be expected to have a BTEC Extended Diploma, Diploma, Level 3 Advanced Apprenticeship, or one/two A level(s), in a relevant subject. 
  • Alternative qualifications and relevant experience may also be considered by employers. 

Degree Apprenticeships – Levels 6 and 7: 

  • Applicants must be aged 18 or above. 
  • Different previous qualifications are required depending on the specific apprenticeship you’re interested in. 
  • Typically requires a minimum of two A-levels, level 3 qualifications, such as an advanced apprenticeship, A-Levels, or BTEC, plus relevant industry experience. 

TOOLKiT really cannot hype apprenticeships up enough. I mean, you’re employed from day one, earning while you study instead of taking out massive student loans you’ll be paying off for the next thirty years, and, perhaps most importantly, from the very moment you start you’re amassing unbeatable levels of work experience and responsibility – what’s not to love? 

But why take it from us why you can hear it directly from seasoned industry professionals? In this week’s episode of The Site Cabin Podcast, a new series launched by two construction professionals (plus a marketing expert), the hosts discussed their own journeys while learning a trade and what they make of the difference between starting an apprenticeship and starting a degree. 

Opening up about his own experience, Danny spoke about how, “right at the start of my apprenticeship, I knew at 15, 16 years old I wanted to be a joiner”. Now, we know that this isn’t everyone’s experience and not everyone can count on such certainty from the get-go, but Danny elaborated and expanded on what he felt he had to gain from his scheme. 

“I knew I actually was interested in it and I actually wanted to carry on with it and see where it would go. Learn the skills: the physical skills, the mental skills…” 

It’s not all roses, though. Despite agreeing unanimously that a qualification enhances an individual’s professional prospects, the three hosts raised some very interesting points on what is still missing from construction-related qualifications, particularly highlighting practical skills that they felt they were expected to know and yet had never been taught. 

“In a construction qualification, why isn’t there a unit how on to compose a quote? Or an invoice? Nobody teaches you how to run a business – it should be fundamental; it has to be put in.” 

However, the financial aspect might just be what irreversibly tips the scales in favour of apprenticeships. As Jacob, the marketing expert, pointed out: 

“You’ve got to look at the offset as well. If you’re earning, let’s say, fifteen grand a year between 16 and 19, then you go on to thirty grand a year at 19, you’re still the same age as someone who’s in their first year of university. With no debt, as well.” 

a young woman gaining vial experience on her apprenticeship

We’ll admit, that’s a hard point to argue with. What do you make of all this? Have you thought about doing an apprenticeship? Here at TOOLKiT, we think it’s looking more and more likely that the format of the apprenticeship will become the educational standard before too long, as employers continue to look for increasing amounts of work experience when hiring new personnel. 

All construction-related qualifications and awarding organisations can be found on the government’s Register of Regulated Qualifications website, where you can find all the different schemes offered in England and Northern Ireland. 

If you’re thinking of starting an apprenticeship, or even if you’re still looking over your options, it might be worth checking out RateMyApprenticeship. This is a website where apprentices share experiences of working with some of the UK’s biggest and smallest construction companies, which means you’ll be able to browse through thousands of reviews of apprenticeships, school-leaver programmes and work experience schemes to make the most informed decision you can. 

Whether you’re contemplating which apprenticeship to choose, or you’ve been in the industry for so long you can’t even remember how you got started, get in touch, share your experiences and keep an eye out for Part 2 next week, where we look into what you actually need to get onto a building site. 

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