Getting to grips with Levels

14 November, 2019

Welcome to this month’s Apprenticeship Chat Series 

People often find understanding apprenticeship levels, career framework levels and pay bands and how they do, or more importantly don’t, align confusing.  This article aims to explain the differences and outline why the level your employee has reached in their current career does not necessarily indicate the level of apprenticeship they may need to take.

Apprenticeship levels

Apprenticeship can range from level 2 through to 8.  They describe the level of the occupation.

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education offers guidance on what those levels look like here

This is different from the previous apprenticeship frameworks which were based on qualifications and therefore the level determined by the main competence qualification level.

The government website compares apprenticeship levels with educational levels as follows:


 Pay banding

Many, but not all, NHS organisations in England use the Agenda for Change pay banding. This banding ranges from level 1 through to level 9.  Job descriptions are evaluated against a series of criteria to determine the pay banding. Pay banding is based on a reflection of the level of autonomy, skills and knowledge that an individual needs to have in order to carry out the role your organisation requires them to do  and is a measure of what you, as an employer, think that those skills are worth in financial terms. Read more here.

Career framework levels

The career framework ranges from levels 1 through to 9. It is a way of organising the career levels within an organisation to show the hierarchy between different types of role and how movement is possible between roles. Career frameworks also help with workforce analysis and assist organisation in ensuring that they have a competent and cost-effective workforce. Download a copy of the level descriptors here.

Confusion between apprenticeship levels, pay banding and career frameworks sometimes occur because often they all match. For example your employee could be doing a level 3 Senior Healthcare Support Worker apprenticeship which sits at career framework level 3 and, on completion, they will be paid at band 3.

However, at other times they are different. For example your employee could be doing a level 6 Midwife apprenticeship which sits at career framework level 5 and on completion they may be paid at band 5. An even more complex example is where a registered nurse apprentice who already holds a degree is on a Level 6 apprenticeship but, as they already hold a degree, they are undertaking a Level 7 qualification approved by the NMC. Like the Midwife example the apprenticeship is still at level 6, as this is the level of the occupation, but it again sits at Level 5 on the career framework and on completion a newly registered nurse can expect to be paid at Band 5.

Because career framework and pay banding are often aligned people tend to use the terms interchangeably which in itself can add to the confusion.

So here’s how to get to grips with apprenticeships and their levels:

Choosing an apprenticeship level

Often people assume that with any new learning they should progress their academic level. This is a notion that we are very familiar with as the education system in England is set up so that people can progress from GCSEs to A Levels to higher education where they can take a Degree and possibly even a Masters or PhD.

When it comes to apprenticeships however things are different. An apprenticeship describes a unique occupation and the level describes the level of that occupation. So, the employee may be highly competent in their existing occupation but have to begin at a different level when undertaking a new occupation.

As an illustration let’s look at a Physiotherapist. This is an occupation with high level clinical skills but initially very little management responsibility. Although the Physiotherapist Apprenticeship Standard is at level 6 and includes a degree, the requirement of the management role that your organisation needs them to initially undertake is at a lower level. You could therefore recommend a Team Leader / Supervisor apprenticeship at level 3.  This first line management role would be appropriate as they need to develop new skills in managing a team and supervising work.  If you had chosen the Level 7 Senior Leader apprenticeship to reflect the apprentice’s previous learning you would have found that the content included may stretch far beyond the requirements of the role since that apprenticeship focusses on strategic rather than operational leadership.

Getting to grips with selecting the right apprenticeship at the right level

  Consider – What are the level of skills you need for the role that they are going to carry out on completion of the apprenticeship?

✓  Read – Does the content of the standard reflect the requirements of the role? If the context seems too high or too low see if there is a suitable alternative at a different level.

  Review – What is the organisation’s need for the occupation? Are there internal drivers determining the choice of apprenticeship eg workforce gaps or recruitment and retention issues?

  Check – What existing knowledge skills and behaviours does your employee already have? The apprenticeship must deliver at least 12 months of new learning for the apprentice, even after prior learning is taken into account.

The pathways tool lets you create or view different apprenticeship career routes and may help you with your planning.

Once you understand how the different levels used within the health sector, and especially the NHS work, navigating through the apprenticeship options should be more straightforward and can lead to more rewarding and fulfilling careers.