Apprenticeships in the British Armed Forces – What You Need To Know
A career in the armed forces can be rewarding, providing a real sense of purpose, a chance to serve your country, and the opportunity to travel.
Not everyone is suited to a career in the armed forces, but with departments including IT and communications, logistics, animal control, public services and health, to name a few, there are many opportunities and pathways to follow.
Four branches make up the UK military or armed forces:
- The British Army
- The Royal Air Force
- The Royal Navy
- The Royal Marines
There are a few ways to begin a career in the British Armed Forces, with an apprenticeship being one of the most popular.
Each branch offers a range of apprenticeships covering diverse skills at different levels, with specific entry requirements.
The British Army
The British Army has one of the UK’s biggest apprenticeship programmes in the UK, with around 20,00000 apprentices studying at any one time. There are more than 40 apprenticeships in the British Army, including but not limited to:
- Animal care
- Business administration
- Public services and health
Which you do depends on your chosen role in the army.
There are three levels of apprenticeship within the British Army’s apprenticeship programme:
Level 2 – Intermediate Apprenticeship = five good GCSE passes (A*- C) or equivalent
This type of apprenticeship typically lasts 12-18 months. You will usually need GCSEs in Maths and English to apply but may be able to complete these qualifications during the first year of the apprenticeship.
Level 3 – Advanced Apprenticeship = two good A Level passes or equivalent
The entry requirements are usually five good GCSE passes or equivalent, including Maths and English. If you already have A Levels, this programme is useful for developing work-based practical skills.
This is a longer programme at 18-36 months, with the latter part putting your new skills and knowledge into practice with your Field Army Unit.
Level 4 – Higher Apprenticeship = a foundation degree or equivalent
The entry requirements are usually the same as level 3, five good GCSE passes or equivalent, including Maths and English. However, this is a much longer apprenticeship, taking up to five years to complete.
Completing a level 4 can also help you progress to a level 7 postgraduate degree apprenticeship.
If you have a degree, you can apply for the Army’s Master’s programme, studying towards an MSc in Leadership and Strategic Studies.
Even if you don’t have a degree, you can still train as an officer at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, studying towards a BSc in Leadership and Strategic Studies, designed with Henley Business School and the University of Reading.
Both will typically be in the first 3-5 years of your commissioned service.
Serving officers are also encouraged and supported in studying for higher qualifications and professional skills, from Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees to becoming a Chartered Engineer.
Annual rates for soldiers:
£18,687 – From day 1
£23,496 + depending on role – Following initial training
£28,861 – Training to be an officer at Sandhurst
£37,425 – Officers after training
As you gain experience and qualifications, you can move through the ranks to a Corporal, earning £35,718 a year or a Sergeant (£40,058).
The Royal Air Force
From fixing and flying aircrafts to preventing cyber attacks on the UK, there are many strings to the RAF’s bow. Named the top 75 Employer in the Social Mobility Foundation’s 2023 Employer Index, the RAF offers opportunities to people from all walks of life.
There are 20+ RAF apprenticeships, including:
- Aircraft Technician Avionics
- Weapon Technician
- Cyberspace Communication Specialist
- Intelligence Analyst
- Communications Infrastructure Technician
Although the Royal Airforce doesn’t have quite as extensive an apprenticeship programme as the British Army, it reaches the same high standards. The RAF apprenticeship programme has won awards, including Macro Employer of the Year, 2017 and came fourth in the 2022 Top 100 Apprenticeship Employers Award. All RAF apprenticeships are also rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted.
What Apprenticeship Levels Does the RAF Offer?
The RAF offers apprenticeships at every level, from Level 2 Intermediate Apprenticeships up to Level 7 Degree Apprenticeships. The duration varies depending on the level of apprenticeship.
To apply for any apprenticeship, you must be 16 years old or older, be a UK citizen, and not in full-time education. Usually, there is no maximum age limit for an apprentice. However, due to the nature of the roles, most RAF apprentices need to be between 16-47 years old, although this may vary slightly depending on the position.
Some roles have other requirements, such as parents or spouses must also hold UK citizenship and you must have lived in the UK for at least seven years before applying.
Most RAF apprenticeships require GCSEs at grade C or above in English and Maths, plus a related Science or Technology-based subject. Entry requirements vary depending on the level of the apprenticeship and the specific role.
You will also need to pass the RAF fitness test and the Defence Aptitude Assessment and commit to a minimum of three years post Phase Two training.
RAF apprentices start at £15,985 from day one, rising to £18,192.60 in their first full year of service.
You can earn anything from the equivalent of five GCSEs all the way up to a Master’s degree.
The Royal Navy
If you prefer to patrol the seas, a career in The Royal Navy may await.
Like the Army and The Royal Airforce, The Royal Navy offers 20+ Oftsed-rated ‘Outstanding’ apprenticeships, and is a Top 100 Apprenticeship Employer with one of the highest completion rates in the UK.
The Royal Navy encompasses:
- The Royal Marines
- Fleet Air Arm
- Submarine Service
- Surface Fleet
- Royal Fleet Auxiliary
You will find apprenticeships under all these banners on The Royal Navy website.
The Royal Navy has two main apprenticeship schemes running concurrently, Intermediate Apprenticeships, and Accelerated Apprenticeships.
When you join The Royal Navy as a rating (junior) you are automatically enrolled in an Intermediate (Level 2) apprenticeship. As you progress, you will be offered the opportunity to earn other civilian qualifications, including Advanced and Higher degree apprenticeships.
You will need to complete a 10-week training course at HMS Raleigh in Cornwall to learn the basic skills you will need to progress.
Following this, depending on your qualifications, and how you performed in the training course, you will start as an Able Hand or a Probationary Leading Hand.
Most naval apprenticeships at this level take between 12-18 months to complete.
An intermediate apprenticeship is the equivalent of five good GCSEs. You will also climb the ranks as you continue your training. Since officer ranks are awarded on merit, you can be recommended for officer selection at any age and point in your career.
Although you will likely start at £18,000 a year, your salary will increase with experience and recognition. A Petty Officer can earn up to £48,000 a year.
As the name suggests, accelerated apprenticeships are designed to help you progress in your naval career more quickly. You begin as a Leading Hand (two ranks higher than the other ratings) and can choose between submarine, weapon, air, or marine.
You will find accelerated apprenticeship in everything from Survival Equipment Technician, nurse, and Royal Marines commando, to Musician, Writer, and Chaplain.
If you have A Levels or a Level 3 Diploma in Maths or Physics, you may be eligible to apply for an Accelerated Apprenticeship.
Many of the accelerated apprenticeships have an age range of 17-25. Some also have height and weight restrictions and you will need to pass the Naval Swimming Test.
You will also need to be a British Citizen or hold dual nationality.
You can earn between 18,000 – £37,000 a year from day one depending on the specialism.
Accelerated apprenticeships last about the same length as intermediate apprenticeships, you are just skipping some levels to begin with.
You can earn the equivalent of a foundation degree.
We hope this guide has given you a better idea about the apprenticeship opportunities available in the British Army, Air Force, and Navy.
For more information about apprenticeships in the British Armed Forces, please visit the branch websites.