A practical guide to apprenticeships in England

For employers in the animation, film, games, TV and VFX industries.

Death and Nightingales © Night Flight Pictures Ltd

Seven steps to get started

If your organisation is big enough to recruit and employ staff, apprenticeship training can work. Apprenticeships provide a cost-effective solution to developing staff and businesses. The process of employing apprentices is very similar to employing regular employees. Follow the seven steps below to get started.

1. Identify skills gaps

If you need to recruit for a role or want to promote an existing member of staff, consider apprenticeships as an option.

Recruit new talent

Apprenticeships allow employers to reach a wider selection of people and recruit not always based on previous experience, qualifications or connections, but also on attitude – with the benefit of tailored training to get the apprentice up-to-speed.

Did you know?
Graduates are eligible for apprenticeship training. This means it isn’t a choice of ‘graduate vs non-graduate’ but employing the person you feel most able to develop the practical skills, knowledge and behaviours you need.

Upskill existing staff

Many people leave an organisation if they can’t see a clear career path or don’t receive training to keep their knowledge up to date. 

Apprenticeship training is not just for new recruits but can be used to help existing staff develop the skills to progress into more senior positions or to specialise.

Did you know?
A third of employers offering apprenticeships use them to train existing staff*. Apprenticeship training runs from GCSE level up to master’s degree level, so there is plenty of opportunity to fit a training programme around existing staff development needs.   

*Apprenticeships evaluation 2017: employers, IFF Research

2. Find apprenticeship training providers

Visit the Government apprenticeship training provider directory and enter a job role and see your apprenticeship options before clicking ‘Find Training Providers’ to view the organisations that can support you.

3. Contact training providers

Just like calling a recruitment agency, call several training providers and explain the role you’re looking to recruit for and ask how their apprenticeship programme could help.

The role of the training provider

If you offer an apprenticeship opportunity, you will work in partnership with a government-approved apprenticeship training provider. This could be a college, private training provider, university or even your own (government-approved), internal training team.

They are the apprenticeship experts and will lead you through the process. They are responsible for the compliance of the apprenticeship programme, the government paperwork and will work with you to design a training programme that fits yours and the apprentice’s needs.

They usually deliver the majority of the off-the-job training that supports your staff member become more productive and competent during their apprenticeship programme. 

Training providers also support you with recruitment, selection, interviewing and making sure your apprentice is motivated on the programme.

20% off-the-job training

  • At least 20% of paid time is spent in off-the-job training
  • Many employers say this percentage isn’t too dissimilar from the informal training regular employees need to get up-to-speed
  • You design a training programme with an external training provider, deciding how much training you deliver and how much you want them to teach – taking the burden away from you

4. Money and motivation

Work out roughly how much you can afford to pay someone and who will line manage the apprentice.

The benefits

Out of the employers using apprenticeships to recruit and train staff 96% say their business has benefited:

  • 83% say they provide the skilled workers needed for the future
  • 80% say apprenticeships reduce staff turnover
  • 76% say they increase overall productivity
  • 59% say that training apprentices is more cost-effective than hiring skilled staff

*CEBR The Benefits of Apprenticeships to Business, 2015

The apprenticeship levy

The government asks large businesses to pay an apprenticeship levy. This is 0.5% of annual payroll costs over £3 million. This means if you have an annual payroll of £5 million, your annual apprenticeship levy contribution is £10,000.

The purpose of the levy is to encourage large businesses to employ and train staff on apprenticeship programmes. The business paying the levy gets first refusal on using their levy contribution to train apprentices, but if it isn’t used it supports other businesses pay for apprenticeship training.

Did you know?
Apprenticeship levy contributions are only ringfenced for 24 months. This means a levy-payers contribution from January 2020 will be taken out of its levy pot in January 2022 and then used to subsidise the costs for other businesses that are offering apprenticeship opportunities.

If you don’t use it, you will lose it.  

What’s the difference between levy and non-levy payers?


  • Pay the apprenticeship levy if the organisation has an annual payroll of more than £3 million
  • Approximately 2% of businesses in the UK pay the levy
  • Levy-payers pay 90% of the apprenticeship training costs
  • The government tops up levy accounts by 10%

Non-levy payers

  • Don’t pay the apprenticeship levy if the organisation’s annual payroll is less than £3million
  • Approximately 98% of businesses in the UK don’t pay the levy
  • Non-levy payers pay just 5% of the apprenticeship training costs (plus VAT in some circumstances)
  • The government pays the remaining 95% of the costs

Transfer levy funds

Levy-paying organisations that are unlikely to spend all their levy funds can transfer 25% of their funds to other businesses. This can be to any business (levy or non-levy) or a government-approved Apprenticeship Training Agency. This is often used as a form of corporate social responsibility to help supply chains, charities or small businesses access training, where they can’t afford to pay the 5% training costs.

Costs and benefits


  • Training Costs
    You must pay towards the cost of the apprenticeship training (either through your levy funds or 5% of the contribution). The cost of training can be anywhere from £1,500 to £27,000. This means if you’re a non-levy payer you can access up to £27,000 worth of staff training for £1,350.
  • Off-the-job wages
    You must pay apprentices for the 20% of the time they are off-the-job. The off-the-job training apprentices receive is your investment in them. It is aimed at making them more productive. Statistics show that, on average, apprentices generate an annual return of £1,670* whilst they are in training and far more once they have completed.
  • Mentoring
    Good apprenticeship programmes use mentors to check the apprentice is on track, support them throughout and give constructive feedback. Consider this person’s time away from their job, but remember, this staff member is learning new skills too – such as delegating, communication and managing staff.
  • Attrition rate
    Not all employees work out; the same is true for apprentices. Remember they don’t have previous experience in the role, so the job might not be what they expect. Make some allowance for attrition and support in the early weeks
  • Company costs
    There may be additional costs specific to your company. This could be an increase in insurance for taking on unqualified workers, expenses for overnight off-the-job training, etc. Think about your individual business.


  • Reduced recruitment costs
    Save money and time in recruitment costs by recruiting for talent and training for skill, rather than searching for the finished article. This isn’t just advertising costs, but HR time and recruitment fees, too.
  • Reduced wages
    It’s acceptable to pay a training wage that recognises an apprentice is not the finished article just yet. The apprenticeship minimum wage is £3.90/hour, but most employers pay more. The important thing is to demonstrate the opportunity your apprentices is working toward, and reward apprentices financially when they are up-to-speed. 
  • No Employer’s National Insurance
    If you’re likely to employ apprentices under the age of 25 you won’t have to pay Employer NI contributions. If you paid an apprentice £16,000 a year, that’s more than a £1,000 saving.
  • Include sector qualifications
    Apprenticeships can include training towards industry-standard qualifications or chartered status if the training supports the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed to pass the programme. This can be a huge saving if you had intended to pay for this training at full cost.
  • Additional incentives
    Employers are given £1,000 for employing 16-18-year-old apprentices. The same financial incentives apply to employers that take on 16 to 24-year-old care leavers or those with a disability that have an Education and Health Care plan.

5. Choose your provider

Choose the training provider that you feel you can build a long-term relationship with. They will lead you through the remaining setup phase – carrying out a health and safety audit and discussing how to make the training work for your business.

What counts as off-the-job training?

Some employers are concerned that paying an apprentice whilst they are off-the-job for 20% of their paid time will make an apprenticeship programme unaffordable to run. Yet, this is often down to a misunderstanding of the off-the-job training criteria.

Off-the-job training can include training that you would deliver to any member of staff to get them up-to-speed. If it’s supporting apprentices learn new skills and is relevant to the apprenticeship standard, it counts towards the quota.

Government off-the-job training definition:
“Training which is received by the apprentice for the purpose of achieving the knowledge, skills and behaviours set out in the apprenticeship standard.”

Types of off-the-job training:

  • Attending formal sessions at an apprenticeship training provider’s premises
  • Attending external training sessions, with other (non-apprenticeship) training organisation
  • Attending trade shows or going on industry visits
  • Training on specialist equipment or software
  • Online or distance learning
  • Writing assessments and competing assignments
  • Training from colleagues to show new ways of working
  • Shadowing staff
  • Skills competitions
  • Mentoring others
  • Roleplay or simulation practice
  • Apprentice meetings

A government-approved training provider will work with you to identify how you need the training to be delivered so it works for your circumstances.

Examples of off-the-job training employers might deliver
An edit assistant of a post-production company must be able to use file transfer software to pass the Post-Production Operator apprenticeship standard. When they start in the role, their line manager shows them how to use file transfer software to deliver assets to external clients. This counts as off-the-job training.

A Camera Assistant of a production company must be able to select equipment and materials suitable for each photoshoot to pass the Photographic Assistant apprenticeship standard. It is likely they will pick up these skills shadowing a more experienced camera operator. This counts as off-the-job training.

There are lots of training providers to choose from, so do speak to more than one before choosing the right training partner for you. Search for providers here

Did you know?
Most apprenticeship training is delivered at the employer’s premises or online. It doesn’t have to be carried out a day a week or in weekly blocks at a training providers premises, although these models have their benefits.  Be open-minded when you talk to providers and find out why they deliver the way they do before deciding what suits your circumstances.

Alternative models

For most organisations, employing an apprentice directly and working with a government-approved apprenticeship provider is the simplest way to get an apprenticeship programme up-and-running.

However, if you are large enough to have your own internal training team, there are other options you may want to consider…

  1. Employer-provider

You can become a government-approved apprenticeship training provider in your own right and be responsible for the off-the-job training your apprentices receive. Your internal training team will deliver the apprenticeship training in line with government requirements and your staff can be paid for this activity.

However, this is usually done by organisations that employ more than 1,000 people, as it is not your core business, and resourcing and setup costs are intensive. You will also be subject to Ofsted inspections and ESFA audits.

Examples from other industries include Barclays, NHS Trusts, Rolls Royce, Royal Air Force and Virgin.

  1. Supporting provider

For companies that have their own training team, but do not wish to be responsible for Ofsted grades or government compliance – there is an option to become a supporting provider.

In this scenario, you still work in partnership with a government-approved apprenticeship training provider, but your internal learning and development staff can formally deliver elements of the training plan and be paid for their time doing this. 

Examples from other industries include Digital Skills Partnership, John Lewis, Toyota and Walkers Snack Food.

6. Sign an agreement with the training provider

Once you’re happy you’ve found the right partner, sign a service agreement with the provider and they will support you through the remaining steps, such as:

  • Supporting you with your government apprenticeship account
  • Writing a job description and personal specification
  • Advertising, sifting vacancies and even interviewing with you
  • Creating a bespoke training plan for you and your apprentice
  • Working through any questions or queries you might have

The Commitment Statement

Before the apprenticeship programme begins, you’ll sign a commitment statement. This clearly outlines the responsibilities of the employer, training provider and apprentice and will even cover who will deliver which elements of the 20% off-the-job training requirement. This means you can be sure you’re signing up to a programme that is realistic, will help your staff develop and work with your business processes and resources.

7. Employ your apprentice

Now the apprentice is ready to start, the first few training sessions are booked in, and you can see them becoming a competent and productive member of your team.

Your commitment

Apprenticeships are not a quick fix. If you’re looking to give your staff training in only one or two elements of their job, apprenticeships are not the right route. However, if you want to recruit and develop staff with a comprehensive package of training, they are proven to work very well.

Below is your commitment:

  • Apprenticeships last at least a year, often longer
  • You must work in partnership with a government-approved training partner
  • You must give your apprentices at least 20% of paid time in off-the-job training
  • Be prepared to pay towards some of the training costs (either through your levy pot or up to 5% of the apprenticeship training costs)
  • Pay a suitable wage to your apprentice that will help you attract and retain quality staff
  • Assign a mentor and line manager to support progress

What to expect in return?

It’s important that you identify real jobs that need filling and monitor the impact the training is having on apprentices and your business. Over time, you can use this insight to work with the training provider to tweak the programme and begin to:

  • Become more productive
  • Attract and retain staff better
  • Improve the diversity and inclusion of your organisation
  • Be better prepared to meet future challenges
  • See a substantial return on your training investment

Build a more inclusive workforce

The screen industry must have diversity at its core to reflect society, enhance creativity and continue to produce world-class content.

Creative organisations with a diverse workforce not only gain new ideas and ways of working (by drawing on a wider range of experiences), but also support social mobility and even appeal to commissioners that collect diversity data.

Did you know?
The BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky collect and publish diversity data on the programmes they commission. This is done through Diamond, a cross-industry approach to tackling diversity and championing inclusion in the screen industries.

Apprenticeships can support you develop a more inclusive workforce. As paid, long-term positions, apprenticeships provide steady income, job security and an opportunity to learn a job inside out. This appeals to many people from less affluent backgrounds than more traditional entry-routes into the screen industries, like short-term runner placements, that are less likely to lead to further work.