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The best apprenticeships for earning a high salary


The jobs market is overflowing with university graduates, yet practical skills are in short supply. Apprenticeships – combining paid work alongside industry professionals with off-the-job, classroom-based training – are increasingly popular among young people wanting to avoid being saddled with student debt.

Five years after qualification, apprentices made a median annual salary of £27,700, according to the Department for Education. For university graduates, the comparable number is £29,900.

But balanced against this higher salary are a host of advantages. Apprentices get a guaranteed minimum wage during the programme, holiday pay and other employee benefits and, crucially, do not have to pay £9,250 a year in tuition fees.


And in some sectors, former apprentices earn more than their university-educated counterparts. If you think lecture halls aren’t for you, use our tool below to see how much you could earn by going down an alternative route.

Jointly funded by the Government and the employer, apprenticeships are open to anyone over 16 not in full-time education in England. They generally last between one and five years depending on the level of training.

Those who completed intermediate apprenticeships – between 12 and 18 months long and yielding a GCSE-equivalent qualification – in the 2017 academic year were found to be earning £22,450 five years later in the 2020/21 tax year.

This increased by 11pc to £24,920 for advanced apprenticeships – A-level equivalents lasting between two and four years – and by 45.2pc to £32,590 for higher apprenticeships, which can go to foundation year level.

Five-year earnings figures for the highest degree-level apprenticeships are yet to be measured, but one-year salaries already average well above £35,000.

Those who completed an advanced apprenticeship in Rail Traction and Rolling Stock Engineering were found to be earning the most after five years, with median earnings of £64,100. Intermediate apprenticeships in Rail Services came second at £61,000, followed by advanced apprenticeships as a Power Network Craftsperson £56,900.

On the whole, apprentices across the engineering sector tended to have the highest salaries after five years at £39,200, taking into account all levels of apprenticeship.

This is notably more than the university graduates in the field can expect, averaging £36,500 (a significant share of which will also likely be going towards paying down student debt). Cambridge alumni – the best paid of all – were found to be earning less than the top three engineering apprenticeships.

A similar story plays out in architecture, building and planning – salaries of university graduates are £32,395 after five years, a significant cut below the £34,700 netted by apprentices in building and construction.

But not all apprenticeships are career jumpstarts. Bottom of the pile in terms of future earnings is the intermediate programme in playwork – the creation and maintenance of play areas for children.

After five years, they were found to be earning just £14,400. An advanced apprenticeship in the field offers only marginally more, at £14,860.

Apprenticeships are increasingly popular among young people. The number of users searching for apprenticeships via the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) was up 62.4pc in 2023 compared to the previous year.

A survey conducted by the platform also found that 59pc of people aged 13 to 17 were now considering becoming apprentices – the main advantages cited being the ability to earn a wage immediately (42pc) and learn new skills (34pc).

From April 2024, the minimum rate that apprentices under 19 or in their first year are entitled to increases from £5.28 to £6.40 an hour. Over a year of full-time work, minus the mandatory 20pc classroom time, this translates to pre-tax earnings of roughly £9,600 – about as much as university tuition.

Jennifer Coupland, chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (Ifate), said: “The quality and perception of apprenticeships have been transformed through successful reforms. It is great to see this being backed up by the impressive amount that former apprentices now earn, which compares well with conventional university graduates.

“It reflects that as well as all the traditional trades, apprentices can now train for lucrative careers as everything from economists, nurses, and laboratory technicians, to digital developers and aerospace engineers.”


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