Union reps and apprenticeships

It is crucial that union reps and negotiators get apprenticeships on the bargaining agenda.

Apprenticeships span all areas of union activity from recruitment and organising, pay bargaining, and learning and skills to equality and diversity, and health and safety.

It’s good to remember that apprentices can be new or existing staff and the different groups may need different type of support from unions.

Unions will have their own approaches to bargaining on apprenticeships. Some will include apprenticeships in learning agreements, some will draw up specific apprenticeship agreements, and others will treat apprentices like any other category of worker.

Unionlearn’s Apprenticeship toolkit is a good comprehensive resource for reps on all apprenticeship matters.

Below are some suggested key points on apprenticeships that reps and negotiators may find useful when entering into negotiations:

Contract of employment

Apprentices are employees and should have contracts of employment for at least the duration of the apprenticeship programme. Apprentices are also entitled to a commitment statement which is signed by the apprentices, employer and the training provider.

Ideally an apprenticeship should lead to a guaranteed job. In some industries, short-term contracts are the norm and the union can play a role in supporting newly qualified apprentices in getting their first full job.

Unions and employers can help apprentices to improve their chances of getting a job by offering guaranteed interviews to apprentices or by offering training and support on CV writing skills and interview skills.

Decent pay and conditions

Apprentice rates should reflect the job done; if an apprentice does a full job they should be paid for it. In unionised workplaces unions will negotiate fair rates for their apprentices which exceed the minimum wage rates.

If unions negotiate percentage rates, they should start as high as possible and progress by time served or milestones or competencies achieved, rather than by age. In industries such as construction with nationally agreed apprentice pay, ensure the local employer is complying with that agreement.

Union reps have a clear role to play in ensuring that apprentices are included within collective bargaining over terms and conditions. See also Pay for apprentices.

Time off for high-quality training

Union negotiators will want to ensure that apprenticeship programmes in their workplace identify a clear programme of training including sufficient time spent off the job, such as in college, in dedicated training centres at the workplace, or in private study. Apprentices are entitled to minimum 20 per cent off-the-job training time. See also Know your rights.

Access to a trade union

Apprentices are often young people with little experience of the world or work or of trade unions. Union reps should negotiate with employers to make sure that the union has the opportunity to speak to apprentices when they start work as part of induction, for example.

Reps should also encourage other union members to speak to apprentices about why it’s important for them to join the union. See also Join a union.

Equality and diversity

A good apprenticeship programme should include strategies to ensure that Apprenticeships are accessible to the widest possible demographic. See also Equality and diversity for apprentices.

Health and safety

Apprentices must be able to learn new skills in a safe environment. Apprentices are especially vulnerable to health and safety risks as they are working in unfamiliar environments, often with unfamiliar equipment. Safeguarding employees from physical or mental harm is a major priority for unions, and unions should ensure that the importance of health and safety is emphasised in any apprenticeship scheme. Union health and safety reps are ideally placed to tackle these issues. See also Health and safety for apprentices.

No job substitution

It is vital that unions negotiate to ensure that apprentices are not used for job substitution, and that they are recruited to fill genuine skills shortages and plan for future skills gaps.


Mentoring can play    …. in supporting apprentices successfully to complete their training, and to progress in their career has been a crucial aspect of a quality apprenticeship experience for centuries. Union engagement in apprenticeships at the workplace level should involve some form of mentoring of apprentices by union representatives. See also Mentoring apprentices.

Apprenticeships – working across the union

All union reps have roles to play in ensuring that apprenticeships schemes are of a high quality. Union reps have a clear role to play in ensuring that apprentices are included within collective bargaining and negotiating over terms and conditions.

Union learning reps (ULRs) have statutory rights to promote learning or training with their colleagues and to work with their employers and local providers to ensure all the workforce can take up the opportunities. ULRs can help to ensure that the training aspect of the apprenticeship is good quality.

Health and safety reps can work to ensure that the workplace is suitable for apprentices, in terms of equipment, environment and culture.

Reps of any kind could take on a mentoring role within the apprenticeship scheme.

If some of these roles are not present in the workplace, the introduction and support of apprentices would be a good opportunity to recruit to these posts.

The business case for offering apprenticeships

"92% of employers said that their Apprenticeship programme better motivated staff and increased job satisfaction."

Union reps can play a pivotal role in encouraging the employer to take on apprentices. All the evidence shows that organisations offering apprenticeships are seen as good places to work. Skills shortages are still one of the biggest threats to UK business.

Apprenticeships can help businesses across all industries by offering a route to harness fresh talent. By training people with the right skills for the job they can do a wider range of tasks and take on new responsibilities; this can help to reduce skill shortages, minimise staff turnover and workplace accidents and increase productivity.

Apprenticeships for existing staff

Existing staff can be apprentices too and they need union reps’ support. Setting up an apprenticeship scheme at the workplace is an opportunity for reps to discuss long-term workforce planning with the employer.

It is also important to ensure that existing staff keep their terms and conditions, pay, holidays and other rights. See also Apprenticeships for existing staff leaflet.