Apprenticeships can be a wonderful route into employment and provide the opportunity for people to earn while they learn. However apprenticeships need to be well-funded, provide training and lead to a meaningful job. Apprentices should not be used as cheap labour and need the protection of a union around them.

What is an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships provide the chance to ‘earn and learn’ in a wide range of jobs, giving apprentices the chance to develop skills, experience and qualifications.

They take between one and four years to complete, depending on the level of apprenticeship and the industry sector. With youth unemployment at a critical level, apprenticeships offer one way of improving job opportunities for young people.

Why join UNISON as an apprentice?

Apprentices can join UNISON from £10 a year which gives you the support of a union – our Reps, legal team, a helpline and more.

UNISON organises, protects and campaigns for apprentices.

We have provided important evidence to MPs about what steps need to be taken to ensure that apprenticeships play a prominent role in the UK’s long-term economic recovery.

Apprenticeship Standards

UNISON takes a positive view of apprenticeships but in the current economic climate, many employers are coming under pressure to find ways of cutting costs, and unscrupulous employers may be looking to exploit apprentices. We monitor schemes, organise apprentices and get employers to sign up to our Apprenticeship Charter’s standards – all contributing towards apprentices protection.

UNISON’s apprenticeship charter provides a tool to ensure apprenticeships deliver positive outcomes. UNISON actively approaches employers to sign the Charter. The Charter outlines the rights of apprentices and the responsibilities of employers.

UNISON believes apprentices should have the right to:
  • An employment contract.
  • A job offer, once their apprenticeship is
  • Payment at the rate for the job.
  • The same terms and conditions as existing
    workplace policies and procedures.
  • High quality training – both on and off the job.
  • Appropriate job supervision, pastoral
    support and clarity about rights and
  • Not be used for job substitution, including
    covering staff shortages of any duration.
  • A safe and healthy working environment –
    free from discrimination and bullying.
  • Join and participate in a trade union of their
  • Remain on the same contract, terms and
    conditions, if they are already existing
    employees who start an apprenticeship.
Apprentice pay

Apprentices must be paid and, thanks to trade union pressure, there is now an apprentices rate established under the national minimum wage. However, that rate is very low – just £4.30 an hour from 1 April 2021.

UNISON wants an end to discriminatory rates and for the national minimum wage to be set at a ‘living wage’ level.

Organising and recruiting apprentices

The growth in schemes means many more young workers coming into permanent jobs from apprenticeships – they will make up a significant proportion of the workforce.

For UNISON, this presents a major opportunity to build lasting relationships with apprentices and encourage them into membership and trade union activity.

We also want to see apprentices getting involved as a group as well – speaking up for themselves and bringing their issues into talks with the management and employer.

What apprenticeships are available in education?

UNISON’s Skills for Schools website provides a useful outline of the types of apprenticeships available to school staff.