How to get a graphic design apprenticeship

Finding an apprenticeship that suits your passion and skills can be tricky.

In some industries, you will be spoilt for choice. For example, plenty of major companies run digital marketing apprenticeships, which can be a great starting place for creatives.

However, not all industries currently offer official apprenticeships which adhere to a single standard, making it difficult for potential candidates to source, let alone apply for, a suitable apprenticeship. One such industry is graphic design.

Graphic designers may work for digital marketing companies, work in-house at big brands, or be freelance, but they all need to start somewhere.

It is important to note that it is not necessary to have a degree or have completed an apprenticeship to work as a graphic designer. An aspiring graphic designer could join a company straight out of school or college as a junior design assistant and work their way up. However, being a qualified graphic designer, with a related degree or apprenticeship under your belt, can help to raise your skills and earning potential.

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Institute for Apprenticeships & Technical Education has shortlisted ‘Graphic Designer’ for review, indicating the role will eventually get its own apprenticeship standard. Until that time, budding designers will need to be a little more creative in their job hunting — so let’s have a look at the options.

University v Apprenticeship

Universities worldwide offer courses related to graphic design, and there are pros and cons of going to university to study graphic design versus jumping straight into an entry-level apprenticeship role. Neither is the ‘wrong’ choice, you just need to work out which pathway is likely to be the best fit for you.

Some people relish the university experience while others are bored by academia and prefer to learn on the job. 

The apprenticeship ‘earn while you learn’ model may be particularly appealing to those who don’t wish to accumulate student loans or hold down a job in an unrelated field to pay the bills while at university.

Look for local companies

A great way to find entry-level and apprenticeship roles is to look local.

Contact local companies you want to work for and find out if they offer any kind of apprenticeship scheme related to marketing or design. You should be able to get a list of local businesses offering apprenticeships through your sixth form or college. After that, the process is similar to applying for a job, the company will state its entry requirements and you can go through the application process to see if it will be a good fit. 

Entry Requirements

Once you have found an apprenticeship you want to apply for, you will need to pass the entry requirements. As the Graphic Design Apprenticeship does not yet have an official standard, these may vary but are likely to include at least five GCSEs of C or above (or the equivalent), including English Language, Maths and Art & Design or a similar Creative Media GCSE subject.

For jobs in the creative industries, you may be able to get away with lower entry requirements if required, if you have a stand-out body of work and portfolio to show off your talents. Let’s take a look at how to do this!

Build a Strong Portfolio

No matter the avenue you choose, a lot will rest on your ability to evidence your talent and skills. For this, you will need to build up a unique and preferably diverse portfolio. A portfolio should display your suitability for a variety of jobs and commissions. 

There are a couple of ways to increase and diversify your portfolio outside of your studies:

  • Side projects – your portfolio should reflect who you are, not just learned skills, so use it to present something you are passionate about, whether that’s dance, movies, skateboarding or your pets.
  • Freelance commissions – you can also take on commissions, perhaps for a reduced fee, for a friend or local business to increase your portfolio.
  • Pro bono work – Designing a new logo or even a flyer for a local charity or community organisation will allow you to use your skills to make a positive contribution while adding a new strand of work to your portfolio.
  • Enter competitions – brands sometimes run competitions for designs for everything from book jackets and pizza boxes to patterns for clothing and wallpaper designs, and entering increases your volume of work, plus you could win!

Other points to remember:

  • Make sure you include the work process, not just the finished pieces.
  • Have someone proofread any accompanying copy and give honest critique before showcasing your portfolio in a professional setting.
  • Edit. That might sound counter-productive, but a smaller portfolio of first-class work is better than a larger one with a few pieces which are not quite up to the same standard.
  • Practice your pitch and make sure you can talk through your portfolio.
  • Consider creating a hard copy of your work in case of technical difficulties. This can save you a lot of time in case of a hard drive malfunction.

As a graphic designer, you will need to accept that a rejection of your work isn’t a rejection of you as a person. Competition is fierce for graphic design apprenticeships and job roles, and companies and clients may have a specific idea of the ‘house style’ they wish to use for their brand. You should be flexible, but don’t lose what makes you unique as a graphic designer.

So there we have it, follow this guide and you’ll hopefully be one step closer to the graphic design apprenticeship of your dreams! Like the idea of working in a creative industry, but still aren’t sure what you want to do? Check out our media and journalism industry guide for a rundown of the latest jobs and career advice.