Being an apprentice in housebuilding – 10 big questions answered

November 1, 2017 / Keith Osborne
Being an apprentice in housebuilding – 10 big questions answered

With a wide range of topics covered, and the ability to combine on- and off-site learning, an apprenticeship may be the right way to start your career in the UK housebuilding industry. Here, we answer some of the biggest questions about the apprenticeship scheme.

What kind of apprenticeships are available?

There’s actually a variety of apprenticeships offered, to meet the needs of a wide range of people and situations.

Traditional apprenticeships – These are the most common type and available across the UK, combining work experience on-site with time at college or a training provider over two or three years (four years in Scotland). These lead to an NVQ (SVQ in Scotland) that qualify you for an essential industry card, such as those on the Construction Skills Certification Scheme, or CSCS, that allow you to work on-site.

Higher apprenticeships – England now has a Level 5 Higher Apprenticeship for a range of technical, supervision and management roles, providing a wide range of training suitable for senior construction manager roles, as well as some structure to a potential career.

Specialist applied-skills programmes – Often abbreviated to SAPs, these have been introduced in partnership with specialist employers as well as allied trade associations and federations to provide an apprentice programme that leads to a Vocational Qualification (NVQ/SVQ). These are currently open to those with a full-time contract of direct employment with an employer signed up to the Apprenticeship Levy.

Specialist upskilling programmes – SUPs are a way for those with experience to enhance existing skills or learn more about related areas on the construction industry, leading to NVQ/SVQ. These require less time away from the job than many other apprenticeships, typically around five to 14 days.

Shared Apprenticeship Scheme – Available only in England and Wales, these offer a Level 3 apprenticeship following on-site work experience with more than one employer.

What topics do they cover?

There’s a host of things that you can get a construction industry-related apprenticeships in, from skills such as bricklaying and plastering to civil engineering, surveying and project management

Who can apply for apprenticeships?

Generally, apprenticeships are open to those over 16-years-old who are not in full-time education. There are different qualification requirements for the different levels of apprenticeship available, with a range of topics relevant to the construction industry covering a range of levels.

Level 2 (‘Intermediate’) – Open to over-16s who show they have the ability to complete the training.

Level 3 (‘Advanced’) – Some employers require to qualifications from applicants, others look for three or more GCSEs. Previous experience in the industry may also be a factor.

Level 4/5 (‘Higher’) – As well as a Level 3 qualification (or equivalent A-Levels or BTEC), applicants should have at least five GCSEs graded A to C (or 9 to 4 under the recently introduced new system), with some employers wanting qualifications relevant to the role.

Level 5/7 (‘Degree’) – Similar entry requirement to Level 4/5, but with the aim of achieving a degree- or masters-equivalent qualification.

What kind of qualities will the employers be looking for?

There will undoubtedly be individual skills and abilities that will play a part in being signed up, but there are also some general factors that may improve your chances of being a successful candidate:

  • Enthusiasm for the role and motivation to do it well – a ‘can-do’ attitude
  • Excellent time-keeping and ability to meet deadlines
  • Not being fazed by working under pressure
  • Good communications skills, both verbal and written
  • Commitment to the studying involved
  • Ability to work on your own and as part of a team

How and when do I apply?

There’s no single rule for applications, as there are different timings and deadlines over the year depending on what you’ll be learning and who you’ll be learning with.

Ensure you check for deadlines, but also look at what the job entails and if it really is something you want to apply for. If it is, don’t be shy about putting across your enthusiasm and abilities.

Once completed, check your application for spelling errors and clear communication. Check it again, and maybe get someone else to look through it too.

Whatever the deadline, don’t wait for it! Smaller companies tend to announce their apprenticeships just a few weeks before the job begins, with larger firms launching several months in advance. Also, some will close the offer before the deadline if they’ve received enough good candidates early.

If you’re at school or college, don’t sign up for one that’ll mean missing the final bit of your education.

What happens when I’ve applied?

There’s not just one way applications are treated. Smaller companies generally have a fairly informal application process based on a written application and face-to-face interview.

Larger firms in particular are likely to deal with applications in a number of steps, somewhat relevant to the apprenticeship applied for. This may involve tests on basics such as maths and English and assessing online skills. Some employers start with online or telephone interviews to decide who to bring in for a face-to-face interview, or an assessment day for multiple candidates. The latter events get applicants to work at individual and group activities, usually ending is a face-to-face interview.

What do I get out of an apprenticeship?

There are multiple benefits of having an apprenticeship. You’ll be trained in skills that you want to have by mentors in that topic, and trained at a pace that suits you; you’ll earn a wage while doing this and be allowed to take paid holiday while doing this; and by qualifying, you can expect a significant increase in salary.

What hours must I work?

The legal limit for the average working week is 40 hours if you’re under 18, for everyone else, 48 hours. You may work more than this in one week but the average over 17 weeks must not exceed these maximums.

There’s entitlement to at least one 20-minute break every six working hours and a minimum of 11 hours between shifts. If you’re under 18, you have the right to 48 hours without work in a week, older than that and you should still have a least 24 hours without work in a week and 48 hours in a fortnight.

All apprentices should have at least 1.5 days of paid holiday for every month of training (20 per year).

How much will I get paid?

There’s a legal minimum wage (set in April 2017) for everyone in an apprenticeship, largely dependent in age. Many companies will pay in excess of this:

In the first year of apprenticeship, the legal minimum regardless of age is £3.50 per hour, after which the minimum rates are:

  • Under 18-years-old, £4.05 per hour
  • 18- to 20-years old, £5.60 per hour
  • 21-years-old upward, £7.05 per hour

What will my employment rights be?

Apprentices should expect to be treated the same as other employees, not just in terms of the employer sticking to the salary, working time and holiday rules detailed above, but also in terms of bullying/discrimination, and health and safety.

Your employer should also give you the opportunity to join a union, which would give you support for the right working conditions listed above and give you someone to talk to if terms are broken.

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