Equine Apprenticeships – invaluable education or slave labour?
Apprenticeships are officially on the rise. In fact, vacancies for apprentices have risen by 15% over the last year. Learning your trade alongside employers, experienced grooms and sometimes even our equestrian icons can help you to develop job-specific skills and earn a wage at the same time. No long-term life-altering student loans for the wily apprentice!
As your skills continue to develop, your earnings potential will increase too. What’s not to like about boosting your career prospects by developing the key skills that employers within the horse world really want. As a recruiter looking at CVs, I certainly consider that formal apprenticeships set a standard we can trust to consider the significant value added to many equine horse jobs applications, especially those looking to find their first serious horse job. This week Becky Parker has had a good look at all the available information to help demystify some of it. Over to you Becky…
An overview of equine Apprenticeships
By Becky Parker
Fresh from the clutches of 11 years enforced education, drunk on your own freedom (honestly guv I’m just really happy), the prospect of earning a proper wage dangled in front of you tantalisingly, it can be tough persuading yourself to think long-term about career planning. The prospect of returning to a classroom for college courses or perhaps a degree holds no appeal for those who struggle with formal education or are just fed up with the confinement of a classroom.
Apprenticeships provide an alternative way to achieve formal, nationally recognised qualifications with training delivered in the workplace rather than a classroom. Learners are able to ‘earn while they learn’ as the tagline goes. The equine industry is famously fast-paced and physical, and there is unanimous thinking when it comes to the verdict that there is really no substitute for practical, on and off the job training. An equine Apprenticeship allows you to gain this in an unexploited, structured and planned way whilst also gaining the piece of paper to prove it.
Many of us long in the tooth now, remember fondly (or not) how in the good old days we started our equine career with Cressida von Jingo Smith-Evans, who housed us in a caravan on top of a windy hill and made us work 72 hours a day for 50p an hour and a bowl of gruel…yes? Well, apprenticeships can help avoid that and will give you memories of working for Cressida von Jingo Smith-Evans for a fair apprentice wage, working sensible, legal hours, living in decent accommodation, and gaining a formal qualification to boot!
Is there an age restriction on equine Apprenticeships?
Since 2016 young people aged 16 and 17 must, by law, stay in education, either in the form of an Apprenticeship/Traineeship or at College or Sixth form. There is no upper age limit on taking an apprenticeship course however, your age will dictate how much money the government will pay toward your training:
At age 16-18: Full government funding of the cost of training for employers with less than 50 employees.
At age 19+: Up to 95% government funding, so the employer will have to pay for the remaining fee.
Have a chat with an equine Apprenticeship provider to find out the options available to you.
Apprenticeships can be gained through a selection of different providers, each who will work in partnership with employers. When choosing a provider look at:
- Whether they can offer you a placement in a discipline that truly interests you for the future.
- Whether they offer Traineeships – this is a government based initiative designed to be a stepping stone on the way to full equine apprenticeships for candidates with essentially no prior experience working with horses. It is a short unpaid course between 6 weeks and 6 months, a typical average being 12-13 weeks. Traineeships combine work preparation training, for example CV writing and job finding skills, with a work placement plus Maths and English, if needed. The maximum hours per weeks is 30 which includes both study time and work experience. By the end of the course you are guaranteed an interview for a full apprenticeship. Note – only some training providers cater for this option.
- Whether there is a mix of training, ie: some providers will carry out all their assessments in the workplace whilst others will require you to attend the college campus for short periods of time. This can vary from one or two days every 4-6 weeks to say, 1 in every 5 working days.
Level 2 Equine Groom Standard (Intermediate Groom)
The Level 2 Apprenticeship is for those starting out with a basic knowledge of horse care i.e. through owning their own or weekend yard jobs but still have limited industry experience. By the end of the course you should be comfortable taking care of all yard duties, assisting with minor injuries and working to an acceptable speed in a busy professional yard handling and exercising a variety of types of horses. Course Duration = 12-15 months, leading to an independent endpoint assessment.
Level 3 Equine Apprenticeship Framework (Advanced Groom)
The Level 3 Apprenticeship aims to produce grooms fit to head straight into senior groom roles such as head girl, main competition groom, sole charge or head lad depending on your specific interest. By the end of the course you should be proficient in all areas of care including recognising and treating injuries, have a basic understanding of anatomy and physiology, clipping, show turnout and have competition grooming experience. The course also involves learning to manage a small to medium team of staff taking on a supervisory role leading by example and advising others how to progress themselves.
Course Duration = 18-24 months with on-program assessment.
For the Level 2 Standard there are 5 different pathways to choose from that will shape the direction and specifics of your apprenticeship. These are:
For the level 3 Framework there are 4 different pathways to choose from:
Advanced Apprentice In Sporting Excellence (AASE)
The AASE is an Apprenticeship designed for elite athletes aged 16-19, identified by their National Governing Body as having the potential to excel in their sport.
To find out more about the equine Apprenticeships available to you contact an official provider of equine Apprenticeships – links provided at the end of this article.
Admittedly this is not a lot if you’re aged 16-18 or you’re 19+ in your first year apprenticeship you are entitled to the National Minimum Wage for Apprentices which from 1st April 2022 – 31st March 2023 is set at £4.81 per hour. If you’re 19+ and in the second year apprenticeship the minimum you must be paid by law is the National Minimim Wage for your age, just like any other groom. Fortunately, in the equine industry jobs will often (but not always) include accommodation, all bills, perhaps livery for a horse and in some cases food, which are great benefits. Compare this to the cost of going to college or University where you will receive no wage at all and pay for accommodation and you’re winning. As an apprentice between the ages of 16-18 the maximum hours you can work is 40 over a 5-day week and you must have 2 consecutive days off. Once over 18 you can work up to 48 hours per week and your days off do not need to be consecutive.
You will have an ‘Apprenticeship Agreement’ which will be provided to you by the training provider. It is the agreement between the Employer and Apprentice regarding the training to be delivered as part of the Apprenticeship.
In addition, you must be given a “Written Statement of Employment Particulars” (aka Written Contract).
You will be an employee, which may be an open-ended or a fixed term contract for the duration of your Apprenticeship, and thus all employment laws will apply to you. You must be given a Principle Statement of Employment no later than your first day of work and your Wider Written Statement of Employment within your first 2 months of employment as an Apprentice. However, it is good practice for you to receive it prior starting the position.
The document must:
- provide that the apprentice undertakes to work for the employer under the agreement
- be in the prescribed form in that it must contain certain minimum information, such as the place of work, job title, rate of pay, holiday entitlement etc.
- state that it is governed by the Law of England and Wales
- state that it is entered into in connection with a qualifying apprenticeship framework
Weighing things up
Now let’s take an objective look at whether equine Apprenticeships work in your favour or not…
- Importantly, hands-on INDUSTRY EXPERIENCE which will make you instantly more attractive to future employers.
- Equine Apprenticeships provide young people with a positive, supportive start into the working world.
- Training providers help students with guided career development to ensure they make educated decisions when they move on.
- Structured pay, benefits and holidays overseen by the training providers ensuring learners are treated fairly.
- Placements at top yards who otherwise might not consider junior staff.
- A structured program of learning that ensures you constantly progress and address any weaknesses.
- Confidence in your ability through passing assessments and feedback from tutors.
- Multiple references for your CV from employers and tutors.
- The wage is usually lower than you would earn as a fully qualified groom.
- As a trainee you will be starting with the basics, including the less desirable jobs!
- If you are a more mature student (19+) employers have to contribute 5% towards the cost of your training, so it may be harder to find placements.
*It’s worth noting that, whilst an apprenticeship is work-based training, a commitment to studying the horse care knowledge required is essential!
Always ensure you explore every option before making a final decision, bearing in mind that 16-18 year olds are now required by law to remain in full time education or training. Alternative ways to get started in a career with horses are;
1. Gaining your BHS Qualifications (for 16-18 year olds: alongside full time education)
See our past article all about this subject to learn more – www.thegroomslist.co.uk/equine-careers-bhs-qualifications/
2. Studying full time at an equine college
An attractive option to many horse lovers instead of traditional A levels/uni is to opt for a vocational college instead where you will be trained in a mix of theoretical and practical skills including riding. Most colleges also have a live-in option, many an ex-student has a tale or two to tell about the shenanigans taking place there.
3. Junior Grooms
There are still some yards who will employ ‘Junior Grooms’. Although the term “Junior Groom” implies someone young, a Junior Groom role can be available for anyone, although as an inexperienced “trainee” it is likely you will earn little or no more than the National Minimum Wage for your age until you have gained a certain amount of experience. If studying in any form is really not for you, or perhaps you wish to pursue a riding career and are offered a role that provides you with many opportunities under a very supportive coach/professional rider, and you are aged 18 or above, this could in some situations be worth it. Just ensure any promises made to you are made in writing and adhered to, and that your salary and “Working Contract” meet legal requirements.
Working Pupil and Junior Groom jobs – a word of advice
The terms “working pupil” and “Junior Groom” are often used to describe job roles suitable for less experienced grooms, but it is important to understand the legalities of these job descriptions. The term “Working Pupil” implies that you are an employee working under the tutelage of your boss or a superior, more experienced colleague. The term “Junior Groom” implies that you are a less experienced groom than your colleagues. The fact is in both cases, you are simply a “Trainee Groom” – you will not be receiving any recognised qualification or certification on completion of your training, and the training you will receive will be subjective to the yard/environment you are working in and not governed by any official entity. This isn’t to say that “Working Pupil”, “Junior Groom” or “Trainee Groom” positions are a bad thing – they are often the job roles that start off extremely successful equine careers, but it is important that you are not exploited in any way through your own, or your employer’s naivety about these terms.
The simple facts to remember are:
- 16-17 year olds MUST remain in formal, full time education, and so cannot by law accept a role as a “Working Pupil” or “Junior Groom” unless it is within a proper apprenticeship.
- A Working Pupil or Junior Groom who is not officially employed may not be covered by the employers/yard owners insurance should the untoward happen!
- The ONLY job role legally entitled to pay less than the National Minimum Wage for your age is an Apprenticeship, which is subject to a separate wage scale and contractual obligation, as detailed above. And by ‘Apprenticeship’ we mean in truth, not in job title alone. Your equine Apprenticeship will be provided by an official body (for example Educ8 Equine).
- ANY other Working Pupil/Junior Groom/Training Groom role is subject to the same National Minimum Wage and contractual obligations as any other employment role. Do not ever accept a salary that is less than the National Minimum Wage for your age in exchange for training on the job.
The British Grooms Association (BGA) provide further information about the term “Working Pupil” here.
If you are an employer or employee and are uncertain of the legalities surrounding this matter please don’t hesitate to contact us for a no-obligation, confidential chat about the employment status.
Ultimately the only person who can decide whether an Apprenticeship is the right career path for you, is YOU! It can help at times like this to employ Caroline’s method described in her New Year’s blog post and stand back to take a helicopter view of your life. Daydream on where you would like to be 5 years from now and work out the best way to get there. Always be honest with yourself about your own strengths and weaknesses, what will you enjoy most? What are you most likely to stick at? What’s right for some people is completely wrong for others!
If you do decide to go down the Apprenticeship route don’t be afraid to reference check your employer too, ask to speak to current or past working pupils and find out if the job description matches and if the working environment is one you can see yourself fitting in with. Once the decision is made, commit to the job and training completely. Be prepared to work hard and show yourself to be a keen apprentice willing to learn and you will be set for a flying start to your equine career!