When you’re trying to set up an apprenticeship scheme for your company, it can be confusing trying to understand the various terms used to describe different kinds of apprenticeships. In these early stages, one of the first things you need to understand is what the different apprenticeship levels mean.

Apprenticeship levels range anywhere from level 2, the equivalent to GCSES, to level 7, which is equivalent to a master’s degree. Candidates can start from the lowest level and work their way up, or they can start at any level they are already qualified for. 

As an employer, it is essential to know the difference between apprenticeship levels, both to make sure you are offering the right qualification to candidates and that the work they perform meets the needs of your business. In this blog post, we will explain what the different levels mean, and what experience candidates need to be eligible for them.

Level 2 (Intermediate)

Level 2 qualifications are generally where most apprentices begin their journey. No formal qualifications are needed to apply for a level 2 apprenticeship, which is good news for candidates who don’t have any traditional academic qualifications or work experience. Candidates need to demonstrate a good attitude towards the course and be at least 16 years old to be made an offer. 

A level 2 apprenticeship is equivalent to 5 GCSE passes (grades A – C, or 9 – 4 on the new scale), or an NVQ or BTEC qualification of the same level. These normally take between 12 and 18 months to complete, depending on the student. 

Level 3 (Advanced)

Here’s a fun fact for you: according to government research, 44% of apprenticeships started in the 2019/2020 academic year were at a level 3 or advanced level. A level 3 is the next step up for those who have completed a level 2 apprenticeship, or for those who already have 5 GCSE passes. Sometimes no formal qualifications are needed to apply for a level 3 apprenticeship, but in these cases applicants need to have experience of working in the industry to be considered.

A level 3 apprenticeship is equivalent to 2 A-level passes, or to a level 3 NVQ or BTEC qualification. On average, these take between 12 months and 2 years to complete.


Level 4 (Higher)


As a higher level qualification, level 4 apprenticeships tend to have tougher requirements for candidates than previous levels. These requirements might include:

  • A completed advanced apprenticeship in a relevant subject
  • A level 3 NVQ/SVQ qualification or a BTEC National qualification or 2 passes at A-level (at least an E grade, or higher)
  • 5 GCSE passes at grades A – C/9 – 4
  • No previous formal qualifications, but a strong history of work experience in their field


This can vary between companies, so it’s up to you as an employer to decide what previous experience your apprentices need to have. Level 4 apprenticeships generally take 12 months to 2 years to complete, and are equivalent to a foundation degree, a Higher National Certificate or the first year of an undergraduate degree.

Apprentices who achieve a level 4 or higher qualification tend to enjoy the benefits of higher earnings throughout their career. Research by the Centre for Economics and Business has found that those with intermediate level qualifications receive wage premiums of 11%, and this figure increases to 18% for those with advanced level qualifications.


Level 5 (Higher)


Level 5 apprenticeships are also a higher level qualification, but they are equivalent to the first two years of an undergraduate degree. They also usually have the same kind of requirements as a level 4 apprenticeship, but as a more advanced course, you may ask for candidates to have more specific qualifications. For example, for a marketing apprenticeship, you might want candidates to have at least a C grade A-level in a relevant subject such as Business Studies, in addition to other requirements. 

Level 5 apprenticeships can take up to 2 years to complete, and are seen as equal to a Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE), a Higher National Diploma (HND), or a level 5 BTEC or NVQ.  

Level 6 (Degree)


Degree apprenticeships have become a more popular option for students in recent years, as an increasing number of young people are looking for alternatives to university. Mature students might also be interested in a level 6 apprenticeship if they have enough relevant work experience, and university graduates are also eligible if their first degree is in an unrelated subject. 

Subject choices for level 6 subjects are generally narrower than for lower levels, because of the specific knowledge and training that is needed. They also have strict requirements for eligibility due to the demanding nature of these courses. Nonetheless, they are a fantastic opportunity for candidates to gain an impressive qualification. Level 6 apprenticeships are equivalent to a full bachelor’s degree, a Graduate Certificate, or a level 6 BTEC or NVQ.


Level 7 (Degree)


Level 7 apprenticeships are the highest qualification that an apprentice can achieve, and are equivalent to a master’s degree. They are a great way for students with work experience to further their careers even more. Additionally, offering these apprenticeships to your employees also demonstrates a commitment to their learning and development, which goes a long way in improving employee morale and loyalty.

As an employer, you may want to partner with a university that is offering the training. Successful apprentices will achieve a qualification equivalent to an MA or MSc, PGCSE or Postgraduate Certificate. 


Final thoughts

We hope this article has shed some light on what the different apprenticeship levels mean, and you now feel more confident to set up your company’s apprenticeship scheme. However, if you’re still wondering what the benefits of  an apprenticeship scheme are, check out our article with our top 5 reasons why you should consider hiring an apprentice here


At Easy Apprenticeships, we’ll help you with every step of the apprenticeship process, from finding the right apprenticeship provider to securing funding. Call us on 0203 982 7600 to speak with a member of our team today, or visit our website to find out more!