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Everything you need to know about apprenticeships

If you're wondering if undertaking an apprenticeship is the right path for your career as a chef, then read our guide to what a Young Person Apprenticeship means here at River Cottage.

How does an apprenticeship work?

To put it simply, an apprenticeship is a way of learning on the job, so it’s a great option for people who want to get stuck into the world of work straight away. This approach is more practical - perfect for those who favour a hands-on approach to learning.

Will it take place in a college?

You’ll spend the majority of your time in the workplace, completing tasks your employer asks of you. So it will just feel like going to work every day. To complete the qualification, you’ll spend two days each month learning the theory right here at the River Cottage Chefs’ School under the expert tutorage of Chef Tutors Gary and Stef.

What does the theory side of the qualification consist of? Classroom and tests?

There’s an element of testing to track your progress as you go along. And part of the course involves basic English and maths, as you’ll need these essential skills for working in any kitchen. When you come to River Cottage you’ll be in the Chefs’ School kitchen learning cookery skills together with River Cottage’s food values, while you cook under their guidance.

How do I find the right job to complete my apprenticeship?

Don’t worry about that. Unless you have a job lined up, we’ll help find the right workplace for you. We look for the best restaurants and hotels in your area and match you up with the place that suits you best.

Our Chef Tutors will go to your workplace to make sure it’s the best environment for you to learn the skills of the trade.

Without teachers, who can I talk to about my experience if it doesn’t feel right?

We’ll support you every step of the way to make sure the programme is as you anticipated.

At what point can I do an apprenticeship?

You need to be between the age of 16 – 24 to be eligible for a free apprenticeship. You are welcome to undertake an apprenticeship with us if you’re over 24; just give us a call to find out how much this will cost.

Do I need high grades to get onto the programme?

No. You don’t need GSCEs, A Levels or any accredited qualification in order to do an apprenticeship. You just need a basic grasp of maths and English, along with a yearning to become a chef.

Is it expensive?

The only costs you’ll incur would be for your accommodation and transport.

Well then who pays the tutors? And the ingredients? Surely there must be a catch somewhere?

There’s no catch – you don’t need to pay anything at all towards the course. If you think about it, it’s in the government’s interest to help young people obtain useful skills and increase work opportunities. There’s currently a real shortage of chefs in the UK, so that’s why they support apprenticeship programmes like the one run by River Cottage – it’s good for the economy!

How much will I expect to earn?

The National Minimum Wage for apprentices is currently at £2.68 per hour. Having said that, we ask our employees to pay a minimum of £3.50 an hour, to give you a better footing while pursuing your career as a chef.

While this still might not sound like much, just remember that you’ll have a fresh start to your career without the eye-watering amount of debt that can often go hand in hand with studying for a profession.

Do employers recognise apprenticeship qualifications?

Yes. We offer both Professional Level 2 and Level 3 Cookery Qualifications, which are accredited by City and Guild. This is exactly the same qualification you’d get if you went to a catering college.

How long will I have to work until I’m qualified?

Each course lasts approximately 12 months.

Will I still have a social life?

It’s well known that University students balance a busy social life alongside study. But whereas a University lecturer would hardly batter an eyelid if you were to miss a class or turn up to a seminar little worse for wear, your employee would not accept this behaviour in the workplace.

As an apprentice, you’ll be looking to earn the respect of your employers and all the other chefs in the kitchen with your impeccable time keeping and focus on the job; after all you want to become a chef, right?

Having said that, it’s certainly not a case of all work and no play. You’ll make new friends on the scheme and there’ll no doubt be opportunities to let your hair down after a week of work.

How do I choose which path is right for me – an apprenticeship or University?

Bear in mind that undertaking an apprenticeship scheme doesn’t mean you can’t go to University afterwards… approximately 15% go on to Higher Education after they finish their placement.

Our Rising Star winner and River Cottage apprentice, Sam Lomas, said, ‘I personally wasn’t sure what to do after finishing my A-levels. I knew that despite applying to study History and University, I wouldn’t ever pursue it as a career.

River Cottage represented an option that is perfectly in tune with what I am most passionate about – so I grabbed the opportunity with both hands and moved away from home to live in Axminster.’

How do I apply for one?

It’s easy. Email rceducation@rivercottage.net to let us know that you’re interested and we’ll be in touch to see whether you’re eligible to undertake a free River Cottage Apprenticeship.