Employing an apprentice


Employing an apprentice – what is the legal status of your apprentice, and what employment rights do they have? Don’t get caught out with the wrong contract.

It’s great to see more businesses employing apprentices. It can be an affordable way of bringing in a new staff in return for providing a learning opportunity for young (and not so young) people.

However, some employers are confused about the employment status of apprentices, and people often ask what type of contract they should have.

Many training providers who ‘supply’ apprentices will say that organisations should employ apprentices on the same terms and conditions as other employees and, in the main, this is correct. However, the contract that employs the apprentice should offer careful consideration regarding potential legal implications.

Apprentice working

The legal status of employing an apprentice

Traditional apprenticeships

Traditionally, apprenticeships were a two-party arrangement between a master craftsman and an apprentice; this was usually for a fixed period under a contract of apprenticeship, the primary purpose being training and not work.

These arrangements still exist, and they give apprentices enhanced protection against dismissal. For example, it is difficult to make an apprentice redundant unless the business closes or its fundamental nature changes. Dismissal for misconduct is complex, with one case going so far as to say that the apprentice must be “virtually unteachable”; this isn’t an attractive option for employers, along with enhanced claims for damages and compensation for wrongful dismissal.

The statutory apprentice

In 1994 the Government introduced “modern apprenticeships”, later rebranded as “apprenticeships” in 2004; often supported by government funding and generally involved an external third-party training provider.

While different from the traditional apprenticeships, this could still amount to a contract of apprenticeship, bringing an apprentice’s enhanced protection from dismissal. Still not a good ‘sell’ to employers.

Today’s apprenticeship agreement is different

The current statutory system was introduced under the Apprenticeship, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 (ASCLA). It came into effect from April 2012, when the introduction of regulations to set out the agreement’s prescribed form.

Meaning that apprentices employed under this type of apprenticeship agreement are ‘normal’ employees and should be treated as such, with standard (not enhanced) employment rights.

Far more attractive to employers, so what’s the catch when employing an apprentice?

In order to implement an apprenticeship agreement, you must fulfil certain conditions. Otherwise, the arrangement could be viewed as a contract of apprenticeship with its enhanced protections.

Therefore, our advice is to ensure that you amend your standard contract to include clauses specific to the required conditions, namely:

  • The apprentice will undertake to work for the employer under the agreement
  • The written essential particulars of employment required by s.1 of the Employment Rights Act 1996
  • A statement of the skill, trade or occupation for which the apprentice is training under the relevant apprenticeship framework
  • That the law of England and Wales governs it
  • That it enters into in connection with a qualifying apprenticeship framework

We can help you with your apprenticeship agreement and ensure you avoid any legal loopholes.

Don’t just insert ‘apprentice’ into your standard contract, or you may find that it gives the individual the legal status of a traditional apprentice.

The up-side of employing an apprentice

Some of my clients have recruited apprentices, and they’ve turned out to be fantastic employees. They work hard, are keen to learn and have become essential members of their team.

Start as you mean to go on

In one or two cases, there have been teething troubles, and, as most apprentices tend to be younger people without previous work experience, it’s worth just thinking through a few critical points in readiness for them to join you.

Some of the things we take for granted at work can be unfamiliar (and a bit scary) for new employees. It’s essential to go through your usual induction process, including health and safety, office routines, equal opportunities, etc., but do take time to ensure that the apprentice understands their expectations and how to do their job.

Apprentice at the Opticians

One young apprentice working in a busy reception area was ultimately lost when answering calls and greeting visitors. She had little experience of actually talking on the phone – even in her social life. With extra coaching and support, she is now a star receptionist and enjoys dealing with customers both on the phone and in person.

And the Mortgage Broker apprentice

Another struggled at first with the concept of arriving at work on time, suitably dressed and ready to get started with the day’s work. He just didn’t have any idea of the expectations, and gentle suggestions didn’t work. Eventually, his manager had to deal formally with his lateness. From this, he made a marked improvement, and the apprentice is settling into the routine and culture of the company like a duck to water.

Of course, good induction shouldn’t just confine to youngsters (or apprentices) – it’s vital for all new employees. Remember that the “on-boarding” conversations you have with your people do make all the difference.

Contact Dianne on 01243 544805 for advice on apprenticeship agreements and “on-boarding”. We will protect you and keep you legal.

Take a look at Chichester College’s helpful guide for employers.