Jobs for school leavers: How traineeships and apprenticeships can start your career

From traineeships and apprenticeships to flexi-apprenticeships and school leaver schemes, university is not the only way to start a career.

It’s one of those milestones which means so much in the short term but fades into insignificance over life. Tying your laces. Riding a bike. Learning to drive. School exams.

Millions of teenagers will be anxiously awaiting their A-Level results on Thursday morning and after two years of disruption from the pandemic, anxieties may well be running high.

But If there’s one thing to remember about A-Level and GCSE results, remember this: your exam grades do not define you as a person. A set of letters and numbers on a piece of paper you got when you were a teenager do not dictate the way your life will turn out.

Sure, they can help to decide those immediate next steps, whether it’s college or university or an apprenticeship. But one thing they don’t tell you in school is how little those results can mean 10, even five years later. Success and happiness come from much more than a handful of hours slaving over questions in the school gym.

Pep talk over. So what next?

Laura-Jane Rawlings, chief executive of Youth Employment UK, a charity working with people aged 16 to 24, told The Big Issue: “There are a lot of different pathways for young people so it’s about making sure you’ve got the right advice about what your options are so you can make a decision based on all the information.”


We’ve broken down some of the options.


There are lots of benefits to going straight into work, including earning a wage while learning. A traineeship is “a course that includes a work placement that will get you ready for an apprenticeship or a job”, according to the National Careers Service

They’re open to 16 to 24 year olds, or up to 25 for young people with learning difficulties, and help provide the skills to be “work-ready”. Traineeships last between six weeks and a year (but usually only up to six months) and include work preparation training, skills you need to find a job, maths and English support, work experience, and an improved CV. 

Trainees do not have to be paid, but they must be given constructive feedback, advice and development opportunities during the placement.

Traineeships combine a minimum of 70 hours of working with time in college or a training centre. They can lead to an apprenticeship, further education or a job. To find out more, ask your local college or training provider or speak to your school careers adviser. Search traineeships in England here.


Why go to college or university when you can get straight into earning? An apprenticeship is a great opportunity to get on-the-job skills training while earning a salary from the age of 16.

“An apprenticeship is a great way to get yourself qualified, stay learning and learn work skills,” says Sam Stayner, operations manager at Catch22, a charity whose work includes vocational training and educating young people. “There are so many different apprenticeships out there and there’s some really great, engaging apprenticeship providers who will work with you to find the best apprenticeship for you.”

Apprenticeships last at least a year, with 80 per cent of your time in the workplace and 20 per cent studying. There are different levels of apprenticeships with varying entry requirements and qualifications on the other side. Apprenticeships can also open the door to a job, another apprenticeship, or further education. There are separate apprenticeship websites for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Flexi-apprenticeships were brought in at the start of 2022 to allow some apprentices to complete work placements with different employers during their placement. The BBC and NHS are among the employers who have committed to recruiting up to 1,500 flexi-apprentices in total, with £7 million in funding for the scheme.

School leaver schemes

Hundreds of companies across sectors such as accountancy, engineering, finance, IT, law, leisure and retail offer school leavers the chance to learn and train while earning a wage. 

According to Movement To Work, a voluntary collaboration of UK employers committed to tackling youth unemployment, there are some great opportunities coming up with Prince’s Trust, Marks & Spencer and the Civil Service. Find out more via Get My First Job.

Trainees on these schemes will often be given the opportunity to rotate in different roles to find out which suits them in programmes lasting three to seven years. You’ll usually need A Levels or equivalent to get on them and they can be a really quick way to climb the career ladder in the industry you want to work in. You can search school leaver programmes here.


If you have little or no work experience, an internship can be a great way to change that while trying out a job and industry from the age of 16 and above. Lasting between a week and a year, internships are based in the workplace and could lead to a full-time role or apprenticeship. Find out more about internships here.

Supported internships

People aged 16 to 24 who have learning difficulties or learning disabilities can apply for supported internships, which last a minimum of six months. Interns spend time with an employer learning skills for work and also receive support from a tutor and job coach.

Supported internships can lead to qualifications in GCSE English and maths, work, a traineeship or an apprenticeship. To find out more, ask your school or local college, or speak to your social worker or transition worker.

Getting a summer job

All young people must be in some form of education or recognised training until they are 18, but if you want to get a job over the summer holidays or weekends, make sure to find something that helps you learn new skills as well as make a bit of cash, says Sam Olsen, chief executive of Movement To Work. 

If you want to immediately enter the world of work, “look for opportunities committed to career development,” she says. 

“Also, have a look for mentoring programmes if you don’t have people who work for businesses in your social circle. If you have an idea of what sort of vocation you’d like to be in, you can simply Google ‘careers in…’ and has a whole host of information on how to get there, including how you can enter the profession and develop yourself.

“For some young people, their lives at home are really very chaotic and actually having a job that pays will help ensure they can look after themselves with the income that brings.”

Start a business

Some school leavers may be entrepreneurs who are keen to get cracking with a business plan. It’s a good idea to think carefully about your ideas and think about start-up costs, according to the National Careers Service. The Prince’s Trust offers an enterprise programme for 18 to 30 year olds “to transform their big ideas into business reality”.

You could even set up a social enterprise, where the money always goes back into make positive change. 

Check out the Big Issue guides to getting funding for a social enterprise or setting up your own community business.

Think we’ve missed anything? The Big Issue is committed to helping people — of any age — to be the best they can be, whether by creating income-generating opportunities such as selling the Big Issue magazine or by offering advice for how people can help themselves.

Let us know of any other career opportunities, work advice or success stories on

Career tips and advice from our Jobs and Training series:


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When most people think about the Big Issue, they think of vendors selling the Big Issue magazines on the streets – and we are immensely proud of this. In 2022 alone, we worked with 10% more vendors and these vendors earned £3.76 million in collective income. There is much more to the work we do at the Big Issue Group, our mission is to create innovative solutions through enterprise to unlock opportunity for the 14million people in the UK living in poverty.

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