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Apprenticeships and the law

For a long time apprenticeships were seen as a part of history and very much based in the manufacturing industry.  The recent publicity in conjunction with growing concern about youth unemployment has led to a fresh updated set of information on the subject.

For those coming new to the topic apprenticeships are a combination of employment and training.  Although many would think of apprentices as being young, the fact is that they are available to anyone over the age of 16 who is not in full time education. Consequently care should be taken not to apply age discriminatory criteria to any search. They cover a range of occupations and in the event there is nothing to suit your business, there is encouragement to design your own and get it accredited.

With funding available to assist with the cost of training and legal limits on pay levels less than the usual statutory minimums (16-18 year olds and 19 years old in their first year £2.60 per hour) it is hoped that promotion of the scheme will provide a win-win situation.  Employers will want to tap into a new and cheap resource and employees will gain skills and expertise that will assist them in locating long term employment.

Apprentices do have similar rights to employees.  They are entitled to the same rest breaks; health and safety protection and holidays as normal employees.  It was intended to clarify the relationship by means of legislation rather than relying on case law but unfortunately the draft document to do this is not due out until April 2012.  In the meantime there are a few things that employers should consider.

  • The agreement needs to be in writing and detail the skills that the apprentice is going to learn.
  • Any contract needs to be signed by a parent or guardian if the apprentice is under 18.
  • Incorporating a sliding scale of pay back for the costs of training if the apprentice does not stay for a stated period of time after the apprenticeship ends.  Great care needs to be taken with this to ensure it is not punitive.
  • Regardless of the length of service, apprentices may have rights to sue if their contract is terminated early.  Damages may not just be the notice period but the loss of opportunity of the training.

For more information and advice on employment law please contact Amanda Finn by email at