With National Apprenticeship Week taking place between 3 and 9 February it is worth noting a few employment law nuances with regard to employing apprentices.


There are now some 70 universities and 20 colleges around the UK which are approved to deliver higher and degree level apprenticeships. In total, there are over 1,500 different types of jobs which are eligible for apprenticeships.

As a result, apprenticeships are big business. There is a huge amount of marketing activity undertaken by educational establishments targeting businesses with the offer of approved training programmes.

To sweeten the pill, the government offers financial support to SME’s which are prepared to employ apprentices. To qualify as a SME, a business has to have a payroll of less than £3m - otherwise it must pay the apprenticeship levy.

For qualifying SME’s there is only a 5% contribution towards the cost of apprenticeship training for apprentices starting after 1 April 2019.

There are two types of apprenticeships to choose from:

  1. Apprenticeship standards – where each standard covers a specific occupation and they are normally developed by the employer; and
  1. Apprenticeship frameworks  - a series of work related vocational and professional qualifications, with workplace and classroom based training.

Employing Apprentices

Until a statutory form of apprenticeship was introduced back in 2011, apprentices were traditionally engaged under a contract of apprenticeship.

Whilst contracts of apprenticeship are still contracts of employment, it is much more difficult to dismiss an apprentice under a contract of apprenticeship, or make them redundant. So by way of example, if a business unfairly terminated an apprentice 1 year into a 4 year apprenticeship, there would be a damages claim for the balance of 3 years, and maybe for loss of future income.

Furthermore, under a contract of apprenticeship regime redundancy is also a fraught area, as apprentices have to be treated more favourably when comes to pooling and selection. In short, they cannot be dismissed for redundancy unless there is a business closure, or some other fundamental change in the way the orgnaisation operates.

The legal protection created by "old fashioned" contracts of apprenticeships were mitigated by legislative changes introduced in 2011. These changes meant that provided certain criteria were fulfilled, apprentices would be regarded like any other employee. So amongst other things, dismissal for poor performance or redundancy were made much easier, and the prospect of significant damages claims was removed. That said, once an apprentice has completed two years’ service he/she would still have unfair dismissal rights like any other employee.

Approved Apprenticeship Agreements

Approved Apprenticeship Agreements were introduced on 26 May 2015.

An individual completes an approved English apprenticeship if they achieve the approved apprenticeship standard.

Most apprenticeships (but not necessarily all) are likely to fall under this regime nowadays. As a result, the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 (ASCLA) sets out certain requirements which an employment contract apprentices are engaged under must comply with.

So when an apprentice is hired under the Approved Apprenticeship Agreement the contract should obviously include the prescribed terms required in accordance with s1 Employment Rights Act 1996.

In addition to the s1 terms, however, the contract should also contain sufficient information about the amount of time spent on off-the-job training.  Off-the -job training is described as training which is not on-the-job training but the apprentice receives during his/her normal working hours.

Government guidance requires that at least 20% of an apprentice’s paid hours over the duration of the apprenticeship must be spent on off-the-job training.

The employment contract also needs to specify a ”practical period” of at least 12 months during which the apprentice will work and receive training.

Consequences of not including prescribed information under ASCLA

If the an apprentice's contract doesn’t comply with ASCLA requirements (see above) then the employer may find a Court ruling by default that the employer has inadvertently created an old fashioned contract of apprenticeship, with the result that the apprentice will enjoy the sorts of enhanced protection described above.


Employing apprentices is not as straightforward as hiring non-apprentices so businesses need to make sure their contracts are fit for purpose. Ideally, a well drafted apprenticeship contract will also deal with the duration (fixed term with the right to terminate earlier if necessary), health & safety (especially if the apprentice is under 18), working time, mentors, training/college hours (if known) and performance reviews.  

CONTACT: Christopher Filor
EMAIL: cfilor@filorsolicitors.co.uk   TELEPHONE: 01647 231475
MOBILE: 07891 055856   www.filorsolicitors.co.uk
This publication is not intended to provide legal or other professional advice and should not be relied upon as such. Readers should take legal advice before applying the information contained in this briefing.
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