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Apprenticeships: What employers need to know

This week is National Apprenticeship Week, which is now in its 7 th year. Apprenticeships have blossomed from being a “Cinderella route” from education into employment to being a real alternative for young people put off by debts associated with university education.

But what do employers need to know before committing to taking on an apprentice?

What are apprenticeships?

Apprenticeships are work-based training programmes which lead to nationally recognised qualifications. They are open to anyone aged 16 and over and will usually last between one and four years on a fixed term basis. Apprentices will be entitled to a special rate of the national minimum wage, currently set at £2.68 if they are under the age of 19 or are aged 19 and over but in their first year of their apprenticeship.

There are two methods of taking on an apprentice:-

• under a traditional contract of apprenticeship; or

• under an apprenticeship agreement.

What are their rights?

Apprentices will be employees but it may be more advantageous for an employer to use an apprenticeship agreement in order to avoid the obligation to meet an apprentice’s enhanced rights on termination (see below). However, there are certain conditions that the agreement must satisfy in order to qualify as an apprenticeship agreement.

All apprentices will be entitled to rights under the Working Time Regulations and the usual statutory maternity, paternity, adoption and sick pay. Employers should, however, consider the additional obligations to apprentices under the age of 18 particularly in relation to working time and health and safety assessments before they start employment.

Thoughts on Recruitment

Apprenticeships are usually associated with young people but employers should be aware of the risk of age discrimination on recruitment. Putting an upper age limit on applicants for an apprenticeship, particularly on the basis of funding eligibility, could be indirectly discriminatory if an employer cannot objectively justify the limit.

Employers should also be alive to possible age discrimination issues if the terms of employment offered to apprentices are less favourable than those offered to other employees of a similar length of service (but note that benefits directly related to length of service are subject to specific exemptions under age discrimination legislation).

What if it doesn’t work out?

An apprentice engaged under a contract of apprenticeship will have enhanced rights on termination. Particular care needs to be taken as the apprentice may be entitled to enhanced damages for early termination, based on the balance of the term of the contract and loss of career prospects. An employer should bear in mind that the primary focus of a contract of apprenticeship is on the training rather than the work performed by the apprentice. As a result, the circumstances in which someone working under such a contract can be dismissed by reason of, for example, misconduct or redundancy are much more limited than would be the case with an “ordinary” employee.

By contrast, however, if, an employer wishes to terminate an apprenticeship agreement early for any reason, it will be subject to the usual principles in respect of breach of contract and unfair dismissal claims (including, in relation to the latter, the requirement (subject to limited exceptions) to have a suitable period of qualifying service).

Key things to remember for employers

If you are taking on an apprentice, here are some key practical points to think about:-

• Given the more restricted rights offered to apprentices, an apprenticeship agreement is likely to be more attractive for employers as opposed to a contract of apprenticeship.

• The agreement should be in writing.

• The agreement should contain the basic terms of employment (such as their job title, place of work, hours of work, holiday entitlement, etc.) as well as a statement of the skill, trade or occupation for which the apprentice is being trained.

• It may be appropriate to set out the hours that the apprentice will be required to attend college in the agreement.

(Note the position in relation to employing apprentices in Scotland is different from  England).

Questions on employing an apprentice? Contact us using our Get in Touch form.

 

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Legal news, views, trends and tools for HR Professionals. Stay ahead. Go further