New recruitment goals give public sector apprenticeships a lift

It can be easy to think that apprenticeships are limited to private companies but, in reality, the public sector is one of the biggest sources of roles that allow people to earn while they learn.

In fact, the government is so keen to demonstrate it practises what it preaches on apprentices that it has set a target for nearly all public bodies with more than 250 employees. By 2021, they must ensure 2.3% of staff are apprentices. When it was last measured in the spring of 2018, the average had risen to 1.9% from 1.4% in the previous year.

The armed forces are way out ahead as the main recruiter of apprentices with the civil service, with the local government and the NHS making significant contributions, too.

Skills and apprenticeships minister, Anne Milton, believes the figures show the public sector is catching up with the private sector who were “quicker off the blocks” when apprenticeships were reorganised in 2017 after the apprenticeship levy. It requires companies with a wage bill above £3m per year to pay 0.5% of the total to a levy that funds their apprenticeship training.

Milton believes that while an apprenticeship in both the private and public sectors are beneficial, the latter has the edge when it comes to supporting local communities.

“The main message behind every apprenticeship is you earn while you learn and that university isn’t for everyone,” she says.

“It’s a similar message that not everyone has to move away from home to a big city because that’s where the jobs with training are. Public sector apprenticeships tend to spread out more across the country and the skills they teach people tend to be in demand more widely across the country. It means people don’t have to leave home to get a job with training and prospects, and that’s certainly very positive in supporting local communities.”

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It was partly for this reason of wanting to make a local impact that attracted Dylan Kelleher to his apprenticeship with Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough council. Now 21, he has already completed a level 3 apprenticeship in construction and the built environment and is in the final year of a level 4 course that will earn him an HNC qualification.

Making a difference in his locality was one half of the decision. The other was that a public sector apprenticeship was guaranteed to offer a variety of roles that private practice would struggle to emulate.

“No other employer would allow me to work and study in so many different fields within civil engineering,” he says.

“If you go into private practice, you are likely going to have to stay in the area your company specialises in. There’s also the benefit that there is likely to be a job at the end of the process in the public sector. In the private sector, you don’t know what shape the business will be in and whether you’ll be offered a job at the end of it.”

Although the public sector is not always associated with higher pay than private companies, Adil Sandhu reveals it can be the case with apprentices. He is on the verge of finishing a level 3 apprenticeship in business administration at London’s Homerton University hospital NHS foundation trust. After studying for the equivalent of GCSEs in India, he returned to the UK and was keen on securing an NHS apprenticeship for two very clear reasons: pay and experience.

“Nearly all the apprenticeships I saw were offering the minimum apprenticeship wage of £3.70 per hour, which is tough to live on,” he says.

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“The NHS, though, offers pay that is closer to the wages of a trained member of staff. I also wanted to work in a busy outpatients department because there is no place where you can learn so much and work with so many different people from such diverse backgrounds. I think it’s given me an advantage over anyone learning business administration in the private sector.”

This variety in experience in a relatively short period of time is a common theme of public sector apprenticeships that also stand out for allowing people to earn while they learn closer to home than some of the opportunities offered in the private sector.

Advice from a public sector professional

Public sector apprenticeships offer a wide variety of roles and top-level training. And it goes without saying that they are highly competitive. Dominic Millington, apprentice division team leader at Leeds City College, regularly advises on how to best match career aspirations with apprenticeship opportunities. He points out that many public sector positions are likely to be advertised in batches by each organisation and the best advice is not to apply for everything. Thinking about where an applicant sees their career going and then finding the best fit is far better than a scattergun approach. He advises applicants to:

Research the training
Make sure you research the quality of the training you’ll be undertaking. Public sector apprenticeships have a good reputation here, but Millington’s top tip is still to research before deciding which positions to apply for. He says: “If possible, applicants should find out the training provider of the apprenticeship they are interested in and speak to them about how they deliver courses and what their expectations are for qualified apprentices. The more you find out the better.”

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Consider living costs
It goes without saying that apprenticeships offer pay at the lower end of the scale while people are learning. Hence, the cost of travel is a major consideration that could potentially point applicants towards public sector roles because they are widespread throughout the country. If you are considering a role further afield, it is important to weigh up the commute time and cost involved. The first step here is to find out whether your local area is one of the many that offers free or heavily discounted travel passes for apprenticeships.

Find out about the disability policy
Any applicant with a disability should bear in mind that many apprenticeships are advertised as “disability confident”. It means the public body or company offering the role has taken a series of steps to ensure they can tap into and retain people with a wide range of abilities. Visit to find out more about the disability confident scheme. Many companies will have also signed up to offer interviews to disabled applicants who meet the minimum requirements for a role – so there’s plenty of help available.


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