As a school leaver, it can be difficult to figure out your next steps. Whilst college is the conventional route, it does not suit everyone. It can also be difficult to gain a place on your chosen course if you do not have the right grades. Apprenticeships and traineeships provide an alternative route with the benefit of gaining real work experience alongside learning and gaining qualifications. These options are becoming increasingly popular, but what is the difference between the two? 


Traineeships are a kind of pre-apprenticeship route, but they also provide great benefits even for those who choose not to go on to a full apprenticeship. This route is best suited to those who are not quite ready for an apprenticeship, are not yet sure what they want to do and need to explore their options further or those who have not obtained the required grades to get onto the college course of their choice. 

Traineeships typically last between 2 – 8 months. Learners are usually required to attend between 3 – 5 days per week and this time is split between a work placement with an employer and classroom-based learning. Learners do not usually get paid for a traineeship but there are often bursaries available to cover expenses such as travel. 

Placement options vary between providers, but common sectors include health and social care, education, retail, digital media and IT. With a traineeship, the main emphasis is on work experience and building employability skills so the industry a placement is in is less important as learners do not usually gain a qualification in that specific field. However, completing a placement in a specific field can be useful for learners who want to go on to study or work in that area as it provides valuable knowledge and experience. 

Alongside the work placement, participants complete classroom-based learning which includes employability skills as well as functional skills in Maths, English and IT for those who do not already have a pass grade in these subjects. Gaining functional skills, particularly in maths and English, is a real bonus because these subjects are valued by employers and are required to gain a place on most college courses. Successfully completing a traineeship will, therefore, open up several progression options. 

In addition to these elements, most traineeship providers also offer careers advice and guidance to help you explore your options and plan your next steps. After completing a traineeship, you may want to apply for an apprenticeship or college course or go on to full time employment. A traineeship will set you up well for each of these options. 


An apprenticeship is a perfect option for those who already know what field they want to work or study in, but would prefer a practical, hands-on learning environment. Most vocational college subjects are available as an apprenticeship, such as hairdressing, mechanics, carpentry, childcare, accounting etc. There are also many other options including customer services, business admin, sport and leisure, hospitality and much, much more. 

There are two elements to an apprenticeship; the work element is facilitated by an employer which is responsible for providing on-the-job training to the apprentice. The employer is required to pay apprentices at least the national minimum wage for apprentices, which is currently £4.15 per hour, but some do pay more. The training provider is responsible for the qualification which an apprentice works towards throughout their programme. Some apprentices attend college once a week to complete their qualification work, whilst others are given time and space at work to do this. Apprentices typically spend four days at work and one day working towards their qualification, but this can vary. 

Apprenticeships are available from level 2 up to degree level. They usually last between one and three years depending on the level, subject, employer requirements and individual rate of progression. Most school leavers usually start at level 2 and work up to level 3. Some apprenticeships provide the opportunity to complete maths and English functional skills alongside the main qualification if a pass grade was not achieved for these subjects at GCSE. 

Upon completion, apprentices gain a qualification in their area and can then go on to further study or into full-time employment at usual rates of pay. It is not uncommon for apprenticeship employers to offer permanent positions to their apprentices once they are qualified, but they are not required to do so. 

Completing an apprenticeship provides you with valuable work experience that will give you the edge when applying for jobs in future. Many people are also attracted to an apprenticeship because they get paid, which is not the case when completing similar qualifications at college. 

Oxford Professional Education Group is a main provider of apprenticeship training in the UK. If you would like to discuss your apprenticeship training needs with us in more depth, we would love to hear from you. You can call us on 01865 515 255, send us an email at or fill in a contact form.


Photo credit Anna Shvets