Guide to Chemistry Apprenticeships

by Lucy Bell-Young

Chemistry apprenticeships are blended learning programmes designed to provide both theoretical and practical training for those who want to earn while they learn. Apprentices typically spend the majority of their time doing on-the-job training while gaining in-depth knowledge. 

Chemistry apprentices are normally only required to occasionally attend lectures and activities on campus. Apprentices who complete the programme can earn an equivalent academic degree that will qualify them in a chemistry field, such as a laboratory technician or a research scientist. The time spent doing an apprenticeship directly depends on the degree that’s being earned.

Applying for a chemistry apprenticeship is relatively difficult and very competitive, which is why qualifying for one is an achievement in itself. This way, an apprenticeship will put you in good stead when it comes to applying for jobs, and will make you a more competitive candidate.

How Could You Benefit From a Chemistry Apprenticeship?

Chemistry apprenticeships are designed for school leavers, career changers, and skilled employees who want career advancement. The best part is that most apprenticeship programmes, including degree apprenticeships in chemistry, aren’t restricted by age. Even if you left school several years ago, you can still apply if you have the basic requirements, especially if you’re sponsored by a company you work for.

Apprenticeship on compass as education or training concept

Chemistry apprenticeship programmes are intended as alternatives to full-time schooling in universities or colleges. If you’re already employed in the chemical or pharmaceutical industry, but you’ve not yet earned your university degree, you can qualify for a degree without becoming a full-time student and resigning from your current job. Similarly, if you’ve just left school, but don’t want to sacrifice earning a salary in order to pursue a university degree, a chemistry apprenticeship provides an excellent middleground.

There are seven key ways you could benefit from a chemistry apprenticeship:

  1. Earn while you learn: This is the main benefit of apprenticeship programmes. The minimum pay in the UK for chemistry apprentices is £4.30 per hour as of April 2021, though this could be higher depending on your age, levels of experience and education, and the company you’re joining. Additionally, the salary and compensation benefits can increase after a year of your apprenticeship. Chemistry apprenticeships are usually paid for by the company you work for, and these companies also commonly hire their apprentices as regular employees after the programme has ended, providing you with excellent career opportunities.
  1. Receive recognised academic qualifications: With a chemistry apprenticeship, you can choose a ladder system when it comes to earning your degree. For example, after qualifying for a Level 3 apprenticeship, which is equivalent to two A level passes, you’ll be able to pursue Level 6 (degree level) and Level 7 (Masters level) apprenticeships. Each level that you finish qualifies you for a better job position and a higher pay grade.
  1. Ongoing and personalised support and coaching: When you become an apprentice, the company you work for will assign you an assessor, who will coach you and assess your progress. This will be someone who’s an expert and well experienced in the job you’re training for. For example, chemical manufacturing companies and pharmaceutical companies have some differences and nuances in their operations and methodologies, which you can only learn through guided hands-on experience. Having access to personalised coaching will refine your skills and knowledge in very specific areas of work. 
  1. Gain real world workplace experience: Studying at school can be abstract and theoretical. Sure, you can learn practical skills, but these won’t be specific to the processes that are carried out in real work environments. Instead, you would either learn a simplified or small-scale version of what is carried out in big laboratories and factories. For instance, even if you’re familiar with the process of distillation, you might be overwhelmed by the size and complexity of water distillation in a large manufacturing facility. Undertaking a chemistry apprenticeship gives you a much better grasp of how processes and theories are applied in real life. Gaining this type of real world experience helps you stand out in job applications, and set you up for greater success.
  1. Improve your employability: According to CareerStop, more than 90% of apprentices are absorbed by the companies that trained them after the apprenticeship period has ended. Apprentices in chemistry are highly employable and in demand in chemical and pharmaceutical industries. They’re also sought after by government agencies that run chemistry laboratories, such as law enforcement agencies. Apprentices have the advantage of having practical experience as well as in-depth knowledge.
  1. You still receive student discounts: Even if you’ve already passed the typical college age range, you’re still considered a student if you’re an apprentice! This means that you’re still entitled to a National Union of Students (NUS) discount card. With this, you can save money when dining in restaurants, get savings when buying clothes, or even receive discounts on your gym memberships.
  1. Enjoy holidays with pay: Just like regular employees, apprentices are also entitled to holidays. As an apprentice, you’re typically entitled to 20 days of paid holidays, plus bank holidays.

Which Chemistry Apprenticeship Should You Apply For?

The type of chemistry apprenticeship you should apply for will depend on four main factors: your qualifications or eligibility to apply, your field of interest, the opportunities for career progression, and the compensation package. 

There are many highly paid jobs in chemistry to consider when applying for an apprenticeship. For instance, the typical starting salary of an analytical chemist in the UK ranges from £18,000 to £25,000 per annum. Meanwhile, senior chemists can earn more than £50,000 per annum. If you start as a laboratory technician or an assistant apprentice chemist, the salary is much lower – but after you’ve completed your apprenticeship, your earnings will be very competitive. You may even be given the opportunity to study for a more advanced degree, which will position you for higher paid jobs. 

But you don’t necessarily have to work as a chemist in a laboratory or factory setting to have good compensation and career advancement opportunities. You may only need a good knowledge and understanding of chemistry. For example, after you earn a degree in chemistry through an apprenticeship, you may also earn a degree in law to become a patent attorney. You can earn as much as £80,000 a year as a patent attorney specialising in chemical patent applications.

Another thing to bear in mind is how different chemistry apprenticeships are in terms of difficulty. For example, analytical chemistry apprenticeships are more advanced than laboratory technician apprenticeships. By undertaking the former, you’ll have more career opportunities as you’ll have earned a more advanced qualification. 

Scientist at work in a laboratory
In the UK, the typical starting salary for an analytical chemist ranges from £18,000 to £25,000 per annum

Qualifications & Skill Requirements

Apprenticeships in general don’t tend to have upper age limits for those sponsored by their company. However, for entry level apprenticeships, some universities and their partner companies do have age requirements for applicants. For obvious reasons, companies would want to maximise their investments, and younger apprentices can work longer for a company than older ones.

The academic qualifications and skills requirements vary depending on the type and level of apprenticeship. It also depends on the university. For instance, the Chemistry BSc Hons degree apprenticeship course offered by the University of Greenwich required candidates to have earned 104 UCAS points from any of the following:

  • A levels (subjects may be specified by your employer)
  • An appropriate BTEC National award
  • A recognised Access to Science course
  • Other relevant qualifications (if accepted by your employer) including progression from an appropriate Level 3 apprenticeship programme
  • Relevant experience

How Long Does a Chemistry Apprenticeship Last?

The length of a chemistry apprenticeship varies depending on the type, level, or area of specialisation. It also depends on the school and the need of the sponsoring company. For example, a BSc degree apprenticeship in chemistry can last up to 5.5 years, consisting of part-time formal learning. Lower level apprenticeships in chemistry, however, can be completed within three years.

The number of years will also depend on the apprentice. Most apprenticeships in chemistry are standardised and can be finished in an average of four years. 

How to Apply for a Chemistry Apprenticeship

Before applying for a chemistry apprenticeship degree programme, first check if you have the qualifications. Even if your employer is sponsoring your apprenticeship for a higher degree, you will not be allowed to enroll by the university or college if you do not have the basic qualifications.

Some apprenticeship programmes also require relevant practical experience in your area of interest. For example, if you’ve been working as a laboratory technician for several years, that would be an excellent advantage when applying for a related apprenticeship. You may enquire with your employer through the HR department if there are apprenticeship opportunities for career progression.

You can also search online or through ads for apprenticeship opportunities, and enquire at universities or colleges. Once you’ve found the programme that’s right for you, you can then submit the necessary documents for admission.


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