Apprenticeships - what to consider

Words: Vicky Skinner. Director, Animal Focused. 

Since the launch of the 2015 Apprenticeship Reform Programme a key objective of the Government has been to upskill learners through apprenticeships. The aim of the reform was to recruit 3 million apprentices, boosting the economy and reducing unemployment across all sectors. Part of the programme saw the introduction of Trailblazer Apprenticeships, new work-based training designed with employers, for employers. The reform also led to the launch of the Apprenticeship Levy for larger organisations. But just what are apprenticeships and how could they help businesses of all sizes?

For learners leaving school and wishing to continue their education there are three main options: sixth-form based A levels, technical education in the form of level 2 and level 3 technical qualifications, for example, BTEC’s and T levels, and work-based learning, also known as apprenticeships. Learners on an apprenticeship spend the majority of their week (80%) in paid employment in the workplace, being trained on the job by their supervisor and colleagues. The remaining 20% of the training is completed ‘off the job’, and is delivered by an apprenticeship training provider. The off-the-job training can be online or in a classroom setting and it can be a few hours per week or a block of time during the course. During the off-the-job training the apprentice will be taught new knowledge and skills in order to achieve occupational competence such as canine first aid or using different recording or ordering systems. This training will take place during normal working hours, with many apprentices working 4 days a week and attending the training provider on the fifth day. As well as developing the knowledge and skills needed for the job, apprenticeship learners are supported by the training provider in developing their English and maths abilities and may be entered for functional skills exams depending on their existing qualifications.

In the animal welfare sector apprenticeships offer a vital progression route, with options available at levels 2, 3, 4 and 5. For individuals starting out in the industry and carrying out animal care roles there is the Animal Welfare Assistant (level 2) standard, this standard is suitable for those employed in a wide range of roles including at, kennels, dog daycare, pet stores, and animal charities. The Dog Groomer standard is also available at level 2, focusing on the specific skills of bathing, drying and trimming of dogs.  For those whose job role also includes some management and decision-making responsibilities there is the Animal Welfare Manager, the Zoo Keeper and Aquarist standard, the Veterinary Care Assistant, and Animal Technologist all at level 3. As job roles become more specialised, options include Animal Trainer and Veterinary Practice Manager at level 4 or Vet Technician for Livestock at level 5. The Institute of Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) continues to work with employers to develop new standards with a current development for specialist dog handlers underway. For those employed in large organisations apprenticeships are also available for business support roles such as business administrators, warehouse operatives and team leaders.

Level 2 and 3 apprenticeships tend to have a duration of between 12 and 24 months, during this time the employer provides supervision and training on their own working policies and procedures, providing both practical skill development and theoretical knowledge. Only when the learner is deemed competent and working to the correct standard (known as occupational competence) will they be entered for the assessment. The end point assessment is carried out by an independent assessor from an approved End Point Assessment Organisation (EPAO) and will comprise of several aspects which may include a practical assessment, theory test, professional discussion or interview.

Why choose an apprenticeship?

Many employers choose to take on an apprentice not only to improve their business but to help people into work or develop their careers. With many apprenticeship programmes having no specific entry requirements apprenticeships can benefit those who missed out on qualifications at school or who experience barriers to employment or education. Apprenticeships can be undertaken by anyone over the age of 16, with no maximum age limit. Learners can enter an apprenticeship at any level and are paid for the hours worked making it an option for those with financial commitments. The hours and days worked are set by the employer providing a degree of flexibility not seen in college-based courses, beneficial for those with children or carer responsibilities.

While the hourly rate payable to apprentices is lower than that of other forms of employment it takes into account the training provided and many employers choose to top up this payment. The minimum apprenticeship wage in 2023-23 is £4.81 and it applies to those aged 16-18, and those aged 19 or over in their first year of training All other apprentices must be paid at least the national minimum wage for their age.

Age & Minimum hourly wage (2023)

  • 16 – 18                                                £4.81
  • 19 +, in year 1 of apprenticeship        £4.81
  • 19 +, in year 2 + of apprenticeship     £6.83
  • 21 +, in year 2 + of apprenticeship     £9.18
  • 23 + in year 2 + of apprenticeship      £9.50

What’s in it for employers?

The Government's commitment to apprenticeships is evident in the rewards available to employers. While apprentices must be paid for their role it is heavily subsidised by government funding for small businesses, which can pay between 95-100% of the training costs with an additional £1000 payment for new employers taking on 16–18-year-olds or learners with additional support needs.  For larger organisations, with a turnover of £3 million the apprenticeship levy can be used to cover the costs of the training.

While many apprentices are new to the business, employers can enrol existing staff as part of their CPD programme, allowing upskilling of the existing team or the filling of skills gaps within the organisation. For example, an existing member of the team may benefit from undertaking an apprenticeship in animal welfare management, customer care, business administration or sales in order to meet the business objectives.

Case Study: L2 Dog Groomer Apprentice: Hollie Machin

Hollie started her apprenticeship at On All Paws dog groomers in January 2023 and is supported by the apprenticeship organisation KEITS. Hollie says: "I followed my employer on social media so when I saw them advertise for an apprentice, I jumped at the chance to learn and earn at the same time as working with animals.

My placement is a safe environment to try developing new skills with help and supervision. I have gained confidence through being challenged with new tasks such as clipping nails on larger breeds of dogs. I receive support from KEITS regarding my online skills, skills in the workplace etc. I have maths and English sessions delivered through online learning systems and my off-the-job training is delivered online at dedicated study times.

I love being able to produce high-quality grooms, ensuring dogs are happy and content and really see a future for me here at On All Pawz.

Case Study: Employer: Michelle Marriott, On All Pawz

“I took on an apprentice as I wanted to grow the business and wanted someone who had the same values and ethos as us, someone we could train in our ways of working.

Hollie is our first apprentice but KEITS have been very supportive. We get regular updates on her progress with the off-the-job training, and as the training consultant comes it has minimal impact on the business. Regular communication with the training consultant means they are always there to answer any questions we may have.

Since starting, Hollie's confidence has developed hugely. She is an asset to the business and one of our most competent groomers. She is self-motivated and thrives on positive feedback. Her bathing skills are already to the standard of a qualified groomer and her styling skills are improving daily, she is a real asset and supports the smooth running of the salon”.

Source of support:

Apprentices are recruited in much the same way as traditional staff, they can be interviewed and asked to complete a trial period before being offered the role, but unlike traditional roles, support can be provided by the government's apprenticeship service and the training provider. This includes support with creating apprenticeship adverts, advertising and onboarding.

As part of the course the apprentice will undertake additional off-the-job training provided by the apprenticeship training provider, chosen by the employer. When choosing the training provider an employer should consider not only the apprenticeships offered but also the provider's Ofsted report and feedback from other employers or apprentices. A good training provider will support the employer in recruiting and preparing the apprentice, ensuring the workplace meets the necessary health and safety requirements as well as providing the off-the-job training.

If you think an apprentice might be just what your business needs further details can be found at and details of apprenticeship training providers can be found at


About the author 

Land-based education consultant Vicky Skinner is the director of the newly formed Animal Focused, an educational consultancy specialising in course development and quality assurance within the animal care sector. Vicky was the chair of the Department for Education's T-level development for animal care and equine and has been involved with the Institute for Apprenticeships during the Dog Groomer and Animal Welfare Manager standards. Vicky has also developed course content and assessments for City and Guilds, Pearson, and the International School of Canine Psychology.


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