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A legal guide to apprenticeships for employers

James Rowland

James Rowland

Commercial Director

An apprentice giving a presentation

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National Apprenticeship Week in the UK runs between the 5-11 February 2024. This year’s theme is ‘Skills for Life’, looking into how apprenticeships can help people to develop transferable skills they can take forward into their careers throughout their lives. With this in mind, it’s time to take a look at some of the legal factors that employers need to consider when offering apprenticeships. 


What is an apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship is an employment agreement between an employer and a person, in which work is undertaken for the employer alongside training in order to achieve a qualification or skill set.

Apprenticeships benefit employers because they enable them to hire new talent with potential and train new apprentices to have much-needed skills in their sector.

A full time job is usually combined with study time that is organised through a learning institution. There would be a requirement for time out of work to attend the learning institution for training.  


What legislation covers apprenticeships?

S.32 of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 (ASCLA) states the specific nature of an apprentice agreement. The Apprenticeships (Form of Apprentice Agreement) Regulations state what an apprentice agreement should include. This includes:

  • That an apprentice agreement should be created in the format described in section.32 ASCLA, and should include details of the occupation, skills or trade that the apprentice is working towards.
  • A written statement of particulars should be given to the apprentice as per section 1 of the Employment Relations Act 2009.
  • A letter of engagement or contract must be provided to the employee as per section 1 of the Employment Rights Act 1996.


What employment rights do apprentices have?

Apprentices have the same legal rights as other employees, including a minimum of 20 days paid leave per annum (plus bank holidays), a contract of employment, rest breaks, health and safety protection and a right to be paid the National Minimum Wage. Apprentices can work between 30-40 hours a week with their employer, with time also set aside for part-time learning.

An apprenticeship agreement, which should be signed by both the apprentice and the employer, should state what is expected from both parties. It is just like a contract of employment, and states how long the apprentice will be employed for, the training they will receive, payment details, holidays, benefits and support provided, training required and the apprenticeship course being worked to.

A commitment statement should also be signed by the apprentice and employer. It should include a schedule for training and details of the qualifications that will be obtained by the apprentice, as well as what is expected from the employee, apprentice and the training provider in terms of learning, training and study goals. The statement should also detail how to raise complaints or queries.

An apprentice is expected to comply with the rules and regulations set out by their employer, including completing work to deadlines, following instructions and taking part in training and learning sessions. A professional attitude must be maintained at all times, and health and safety policies must be adhered to.  They are entitled to holiday and sick pay as other employees, and should be offered the same working conditions, too.

Sometimes, there may be reasons why an apprenticeship does not work out for one or both parties.

Apprentices can be afforded additional legal protection under Employment Law, above that of a standard employee. It is therefore imperative that an apprentice is engaged on the correct qualifying apprenticeship agreement to ensure compliance with the law but protecting the employer’s position also. Subject to what country of the UK the apprenticeship is based, will determine what variant of contract is required.

Reasons can range from non-commitment on the part of the apprentice, to an underestimation of expectations. When an apprenticeship does not go as planned, both parties should discuss the right course of action and whether carrying on is the best approach. Employers have the right to terminate an apprentice’s employment if they feel it is necessary, for instance, if an apprentice failed to comply with rules in the same way as an employee and did not turn up for work, or breached their contract or acted in a way that demonstrated misconduct (such as harassment or bullying other staff). 


Can my employer make an apprentice pay back funds invested in the apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship is typically arranged through a training provider such as a college or learning centre. The training provider incurs costs for training and assessments with the apprentice, otherwise called ‘apprenticeship costs’. 

The commitment statement should set out a detailed plan for an apprenticeship, including what is expected of the employer and apprentice, and the total price agreed between the college/learning centre and the employer for apprenticeship costs. The parties may detail in the commitment statement who is liable for these costs should the apprentice fail to complete the apprenticeship, leave the apprenticeship, or fail to turn up to training sessions. These costs are normally absorbed by the employer and/or learning provider. 

There have been instances in which learning providers have advised employers that they can claim apprenticeship costs back from the apprentice should they fail to complete training or leave the apprenticeship, and that these costs can then be passed back to the learning provider. It is however very important that employers are aware that they are not legally entitled to reclaim costs from an apprentice, even if they fail to complete an apprenticeship programme and leave the scheme earlier than planned. If an employer tries to make an agreement of this nature with an apprentice, it will be unlawful.  

If an apprentice resigns before an apprenticeship is finished, it is typical for the employer to pay apprenticeship costs to the learning provider. Some learning providers do not make employers liable for apprenticeship costs, or they come to an arrangement with the employer that joint absorption of the costs would take place between the parties should the apprenticeship come to an end. Apprenticeship costs cannot and should not be passed on to an apprentice. This should be detailed in the apprenticeship agreement.  

Get an apprenticeship agreement

If you are thinking of hiring an apprentice as an employer, our team of professionals at Neathouse Partners can discuss your needs and guide you through the necessary steps of engaging an apprentice, as well as providing a tailored, qualifying apprenticeship agreement suitable for your needs to avoid exposing you to legal risks. 

Call 01244 893776 today or use our contact form.

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