A website maintained for the Sheffield City Region by the HEPP

Helping apprentices progress into Higher Education

26 Tips

Gaining an Apprenticeship is one of the best career moves that you can make. You will gain valuable skills and qualifications, and get paid while you are training. If you complete an Advanced Apprenticeship, you can even progress to higher education. Some employers even offer Higher Apprenticeships where degree-level courses are included in the training. So, you can work while learning and could end up with a degree with no, or little, debt. Even if you can’t get onto a Higher Apprenticeship scheme, you can go on to study for a degree-level course on a part-time basis and access the same loans as those who are studying full-time, so there would be no up-front costs.

But sometimes it can prove to be quite difficult to gain that Apprenticeship. Many training providers could offer you one, if you have the required skill and qualifications. But, an offer will normally only be made if you find an employer first. This can be the biggest problem for many who want an Apprenticeship, especially in some of the more popular skill areas, such as plumbing.

Plumbing has become one of the most popular Apprenticeships because of reports in newspapers about the big wages that plumbers can get. This may, or may not, be true, but it is one reason why thousands of young people want to become plumbers each year.

But plumbing apprenticeships are hard to find because:

You will really need to think about the job or skill that you want. For example, lots of young people want to be motor mechanics. This could be because they like cars and look forward to having their own. But there might be lots of other young people thinking the same thing, so it is why a motor vehicle apprenticeship may be difficult to find. And yet there might be vacancies in mechanical engineering. Mechanical engineering involves the design, development, installation, operation and maintenance of just about anything with moveable parts. So, although you would not be working with cars, you would get training in a much wider range of subjects and may be paid more.

There are often vacancies in business administration, sometimes because young people are unaware of what can be involved in the job and so think it will be a boring subject. But an Apprenticeship in business administration could lead to a career in finance, insurance or law, or could lead to a management position in an office environment.

In this guide you will find tips to help you decide on which job you may want in the future and how to find a trainer and an employer to offer you an Apprenticeship.

What do I really want to do?
If you are thinking about doing an Apprenticeship, you do need to know what you want to do. If you get an interview the employer will definitely ask why you want the job, so you do need to know as much as possible about the job and why you want it.

Tip 1

Find out as much as possible about all the Apprenticeships that you could do and then decide which you would most like, and which would suit you best.

Until September 2012 it became the responsibility of schools to make sure that their pupils get impartial careers information, advice and guidance. Up until then this had been the role of Connexions. The various districts in the Sheffield City Region offer different levels of careers support but there are a number of ways that you can find out about the type of Apprenticeship that you could consider.

  • The national Apprenticeships website has a list of the different skill areas in which you can train as an apprentice, so this is a good place to start.  Click here to access that site
  • The National Careers Service can also offer help over the telephone, webchat, e-mail or by text.  You can find the service here or call 0800 100 900 to speak to an advisor
  • Ask your school or college careers advisor for help
  • Find out about different jobs from libraries in careers offices
  • Use computer software such as Kudos or Pathfinder+ HE to find out what type of career might interest you
  • If you don’t know what you want to do, a new website (Plotr) may help you to decide and it also lists local vacancies
  • Talk to friends and relatives to see what they know
  • Check out the Careers’; Sites mentioned in this website. This will help to make sure that what you want to do matches your skills, your qualifications and hopes for your career.

Seek help from independent careers advice centres. Click on the following names to take you to centres in your district:

Tip 2

Try to find out about which jobs show a growing demand.

There’s no point in going after a job in an industry, or sector, where there will be a reduced need for workers, because you could end up out of work in a few years. Your local careers office, such as Sheffield Futures, should be able to help - ask them about Labour Market Information.

Or you may be able to find out from the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership. If you click here, you will find a page that mentions the areas in which the LEP expects to find jobs growth.

But also remember that jobs are still needed in declining industries. As an example, in the second half of the 1900s, many jobs in engineering were lost, as manufacturing companies contracted or closed, and so companies could recruit skilled workers who had been made redundant, so they did not need to recruit apprentices. But those workers are now reaching retirement age and so, recently, there has been an increasing demand for engineering apprentices.

Tip 3

In January 2009 a new national service was established by the LSC. The Apprenticeship Vacancy Matching Service (AVMS) has a database of vacancies that have been notified to them by employers. You must register on the site to find vacancies and you will then be able to search by Keyword (such as plumbing), your county or by training provider. It’s also possible to be notified when a suitable vacancy arises.

You can even download an App to your phone to keep abreast of vacancies as they are added to the site – click here and then scroll down to ‘Applying for vacancies’.

To find out more on how to apply, there is a useful YouTube video here. In the Sheffield City Region there are also a number of training providers who have vacancies that may not be shown on NAVMS. See Tip 4 for more details.

Tip 4

Finding a Training Provider

If you cannot find any suitable vacancies on the national website, another good way to find out about Apprenticeship vacancies is through Training Providers. Their role is to deliver the off-site training or to monitor the training that takes place at another training company, such as a local college. Find out which training providers specialise in the subject that you want to study.

In the Sheffield City Region, there are a number of training providers who offer Apprenticeship vacancies.

In South Yorkshire, YTP (Yorkshire Training Partnership Ltd) represents a number of training providers in that area. You can find a list of their members here and they may be able to help you with Apprenticeship vacancies.

In Derbyshire, The Derbyshire Network fulfils a similar function. Their members can be found here.

Once you have found which training providers offer the Apprenticeship that you want, you will need to apply for a place with them. You will be invited for an interview to see if you are a suitable candidate and this is where you may be lucky - they may have a list of employers with whom they work and who are looking for apprentices. If they don’t, they may offer you a position subject to finding your own employer.

See the next Tip for help with this.

Tip 5

Finding an Employer

This is where your work really starts! If you really want an Apprenticeship, you will have to make it almost a full-time job.

Job Adverts - Many employers use the local careers service to advertise job vacancies, including Apprenticeships. Many offer a registration service so that they can advise you of specific vacancies that arise in the skill area that you are seeking.

Other employers may place adverts in the local or national press. You will need to keep looking once you have decided what you want to do - it’s never too early once you get to your final year at school.

Some websites track all job vacancies in the skill area that you are seeking and you can register with them on key words so that they automatically email you with vacancies that match the words selected. See Tip 7 for a list of some of these companies.

And remember - Keep looking! The week that you don’t look may be the week that a suitable job is advertised.

“After a false start at College I’ve now found a job that I enjoy and am on my way to getting a good qualification as well as gaining valuable working experience.”

Richard Dyson
Tip 6

Register with your local careers service, to get information on vacancies. If you are still at school, speak to your Careers Adviser about registering for vacancies.

Make sure that you have registered with the National Vacancy Matching Service. (Click here).

Tip 7

Register with job advert websites for information on jobs that fit your need. These might be worth a try:

Tip 8

If a job is advertised seeking a trainee or ‘junior’; don’t be put off if they don’t mention an Apprenticeship. If it’s the type of work that you are looking for, you could always ask about starting on an Apprenticeship once you’ve got the job - the employer may not know about the training programme and, if you make a good impression they may want to develop you further.

Tip 9

Go ‘walkabout’. Some jobs are still advertised in shop windows. And many companies have a notice board at the front of their premises headed ‘Vacancies’.

Tip 10


Jobcentres have a list of vacancies with local employers. The centres also have ‘touch-screen’ computers to help you find jobs suited to your needs. In addition the Government’s website portal (www.direct.gov.uk) has a page that will allow you to do searches for suitable vacancies on their Universal Jobmatch section.

The search will allow you to say where you want to work, the skills and the job title that you are looking for. You can enter ‘Apprenticeship’ as a key word and that may come up with some Apprenticeships, but it will also include jobs where you to have an Apprenticeship already.

Tip 11


Networking is about using or developing contacts - friends, neighbours, relations or friends of neighbours and relations - to find a suitable job. Networking is the way that many people in senior positions find out about vacancies that never get advertised. It’s about promoting yourself and your abilities to others so that a company may decide to create a new job just for you or may think of you if a job becomes available. But there is no reason why you should not use the same technique to find an Apprenticeship.

Let your friends, neighbours and relatives know that you are looking for an Apprenticeship. They may know of one of their own friends and relatives, or work-mates, with other contacts, who may be looking for someone suitable. And don’t be afraid to ‘sell yourself’. If you are still at school, your teachers (or mentor, if you have one) may also be able to help.

Another more-modern technique is to use Social Media, such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. If you let your contacts know that you are seeking an Apprenticeship in a particular skill area, they may know of someone who could help. BUT - remember to keep your own comments on Social Media ‘neutral’ as potential employers may well check you out from the postings that you have made on Social Media sites and you don’t want to hinder your chance of getting a job.

Tip 12

Work experience

Did you do your school work experience in a related subject? Has that employer got vacancies or, does the employer know someone else who does?

It is import to remember that, when you do go on work experience, it may be the only time that you experience the ‘world of work’ and, if you do well, you could get that all-important written reference to help you later.

Tip 13

Careers Fairs and Events

Many schools or districts hold careers fairs. You may be lucky and find an employer at one of these who is looking to recruit apprentices. You will need to have an open mind about what the employer does because some recruit into areas that you had not thought about. As an example, the NHS doesn’t just employ nurses and doctors - they also recruit trades people and office staff, so don’t be afraid to ask exhibitors about potential vacancies that meet your needs.

When you go to careers events, you should try to make a good impression with potential employers. Look smart. Behave like you want a job. Take copies of your CV (see Tip 16) with details of what you are seeking. Keep an open mind about the jobs that the exhibitors may have available. And don’t be afraid to ask for advice.

Tip 14

Speculative letters and/or phone calls

If none of the above finds you an employer then you will have to work a lot harder. You will need to search for, and contact, potential employers by telephone or letter to ask if they would like to offer you an Apprenticeship. This is called a speculative approach. Letters are probably the better way of approaching potential employers as they give you the chance to include a CV with information on your skills, academic qualifications (or expected grades) and why you want the job.

It is still worth a phone call, however, before you write, as this will enable you to find the name of the best contact to address the letter to. Regrettably, if you just write to the personnel department, it may get no further. But, if you can find the name of a manager in a particular department, he, or she, may feel that you are ‘just the person that they are looking for’ and may then suggest a speculative interview.

Tip 15

When you do write to a potential employer, appearance is everything. Use good quality paper, type the letter on a computer and make sure you turn on the spell-checker.

Nothing is worse than a letter claiming ‘attention to detail’ with spelling mistakes.

“I would recommend this way of gaining a degree to anybody - I’ve got no student debt and have a great job.”

Asaf Mahmood
Tip 16

Prepare a CV. But – Be Brief. No CV should be more than 2 pages. Read the section on CVs by clicking here.

Tip 17

Find out about what the employer does. If you are going to write to them then you do need to know something about the company.

Do they have a website? Are there any press reports that you can refer to? Have they got a new product, new big contract or have they just taken over another company?

If you can mention any of this in your covering letter it shows that you have read up on them; and you could use the information as a reason to suggest why they may need someone like you.

Tip 18

Don’t be put off if you don’t get a reply. The majority of letters don’t get acknowledged these days, but some companies may still keep your letter on file in case they do get a suitable job later.

Don’t be afraid to follow up the letter with a telephone call. It’s a very good way of getting feed-back on the style of your letter and it shows that you are keen.

Tip 19

How do I find potential employers?

There are a number of directories that you can try. The most common is the telephone directory - especially Yellow Pages, as this will list employers by the type of business that they are involved in.

There is a website (www.yell.com) that provides the same information, making searching a bit easier. But remember, if you want an Apprenticeship in plumbing, you may need to think of other searches besides ‘plumbers’ - there are companies offering ‘building services’ who would also employ plumbers, so try to widen your searches.

There are other trade directories such as Kompass that you could use. You will find the Kompass website here although you may now have to pay for information. There are many trade journals and professional publications that you could look through. They will contain articles about featured employers but there are also usually sections in the back pages on job vacancies. You may find copies of relevant ones in your local college or university that you can look through.

You may also be able to find information on potential employers through the relevant Sector Skills Council website. The SSCs were established to improve skills and productivity in particular sectors. There are 21 in total. For a list of these, including details on their websites and contact numbers, click here.

What more can I do?
There is no point in doing a lot of hard work to find a prospective employer if you don’t have the qualifications or skills that the employer is looking for, or that 'something extra' that will persuade the employer to choose you. So consider doing some of the following: Tip 20, Tip 21 and Tip 22.

Tip 20

If you have never done any paid work, get a part-time or holiday job. It often doesn’t matter what you do as long as you can show that you can arrive at work on time. And, if you think you deserve it, ask for a reference to show that you are a reliable worker. If you have worked - did you get any awards for time-keeping?

And, if you can’t get any paid work, consider doing some voluntary work. You will find a number of organisations, such as charity shops and social enterprises that would be glad to have ‘another pair of hands’ to help them. Potential employers do look favourably at young people who have done voluntary unpaid work, as it shows commitment.

Tip 21

You may have played some team sports, either at school or outside school. This shows that you are a ‘team player’. If you were the captain of the team this can be a good selling point.

Tip 22

If you haven’t worked before, were you a member of a voluntary organisation, or an association like the scouts or guides? This would show that you have commitment and interests in worthwhile activities that might separate you from others.

Tip 23

Remember to put all of this information in your CV.

Tip 24

Research the job that you want, to find out about some of the equipment or tools that are used. This will help you to show some understanding of the trade if you do get to an interview.

Tip 25

When you do get an interview - be prepared. Click here for help.

Tip 26

Finally - if you are yet to take your GCSEs, work hard and get the best grades that you can. It’s a hard life outside school and you will need to show that you are better than other applicants to get that all-important interview. Good Luck!