School leaver programmes aren’t as easy to define as apprenticeships, as they vary from company to company and from industry to industry. A good way to think of these programmes is as ‘secondary school graduate schemes’, involving a combination of work and training.
Most companies will sponsor or part-sponsor the school or college leaver’s education and, in return, the student will usually be required to work for the firm on a full-time or part-time basis.
School leaver programmes tend to be lengthier than apprenticeships, lasting between three and seven years. The programmes are usually broken down into stages. For example, students might spend one year at university before working full-time for the company for two years, or they might work at the company while studying for a degree or professional qualification on a part-time or distance learning basis.
School leaver programmes tend to be offered by large companies in industries like accountancy, finance, engineering, retail, IT, hospitality and tourism.
Since school leaver programmes are positioned as the more ‘elite’ school leaver opportunities, most companies specify a minimum number of UCAS points or a minimum number of A-levels in their entry requirements.
They could require anything from two A-level passes to 320 UCAS points. Entry requirements vary from company to company, but overall employers will be looking for bright, ambitious candidates, with an interest in their industry who are keen to start work.
As school leaver programmes aim to provide a genuine alternative for students who would have otherwise gone to university, employers put plenty of emphasis on the qualifications offered.
Some programmes are centred on attaining a bachelor’s degree or foundation degree, while others might focus on the achievement of a professional qualification, such as an ATT (Association of Tax Technicians), CILEx (Chartered Institute of Legal Executives) or ICAEW CFAB (Certificate in Finance, Accounting and Business). A few schemes offer trainees the chance to obtain both a university degree and a professional qualification as part of the same programme.
When a school leaver trainee comes to the end of a school leaver programme, they are usually offered a position within the company. This is not a legal obligation – both the trainee and the company can choose whether they want to continue with the employment or not – but there are lots of advantages to retaining school leavers, and many companies make a point of offering positions on their graduate programmes to trainees upon completion of their school leaver programmes. At EY, for example, as with many organisations, some Directors and even Partners started at the firm as school leavers.
School leaver trainees have the same rights as standard employees: they are paid the National Minimum Wage, , which is higher than the Apprentice National Minimum Wage. Those on school leaver programmes receive a handsome salary and benefits package, which can sometimes be as high as £25,000 and beyond.