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Work-based training in chemistry

A three or four year science-related degree is not the only route into a career with chemistry. If you are not sure about going to University but are interested in pursuing a career in chemistry and gaining qualifications then a work-based qualification could be for you. Some options are also suitable if you are thinking about retraining for a career in chemistry, or if you did not choose the right subjects or get the grades you needed.

What are the benefits of work-based qualifications?

Apprenticeships     © Alamy

Most work-based qualifications are designed with the help of employers, meaning you will develop the skills and knowledge that employers look for in their industry. Your qualification and work experience will also help you stand out to future employers and support your long-term career. Apprentices are also paid at least the minimum wage for apprentices (currently £3.70 p/h from April 2018) although science-related roles are usually paid at a higher rate due to the nature of the work. If you go to University then you will need to pay tuition fees for your qualification, but as a work-based learner you will not have to pay.


A science-based apprenticeship contains a number of elements no matter where you live in the UK. They are:

  • Paid work doing a real job with responsibility
  • Developing core skills such as numeracy, communication and team work
  • A relevant and recognised qualification that meets the standards set by the relevant industry
  • In England, an end-point assessment that will test the skills, knowledge and behaviours you have learnt during your apprenticeship to make sure you can do your job.

You will spend a minimum of 30 hours per week observing, learning and developing with your employer as well as a set amount of time learning in person, or online through a training provider. It is very important that you are committed, up for the challenge of balancing a demanding role with your studies and working as a professional.

Who can do an apprenticeship or work-based qualification?

Anyone! The entry requirements for the different work-based qualifications vary by the type of course and the level of study. Some qualifications require at least five GSCEs in chemistry, maths or science at grade C or above, but this varies. There are also no age restrictions so if you are considering retraining then an apprenticeship could also be an option. If you have a learning difficulty or disability then in some cases the entry requirements have been adapted so check with your local training provider to find out more.

What work-based qualifications are available?

England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Depending on what qualifications you hold there are different options to be considered:

  • Applied Generals are a range of Level 3 qualifications suitable for students aged 16+ who want to develop a broad range of knowledge and skills that employers seek, and progress on to either University or work in chemistry. Applied Science courses cover topics across biology, chemistry and physics with lots of practical lab skills. Over two years, you will learn through lab-based practical assignments, presentations and discussions based on real workplace situations. The BTEC Level 3 in Applied Science is an example of an Applied General.

  • Higher National Certificates (HNC) last one to two years and are generally delivered by colleges. You will need to hold Level 2 qualifications in English and Maths and a Level 3 qualification in a relevant subject (Applied General, A level or Access to HE diploma). It can lead on to a job, Higher National Diploma (HND) and may be taken as part of an Apprenticeship.

  • Higher National Diplomas (HND) are often college-based and last two to four years. You will develop a wide knowledge of chemical science principles and methodologies. If you are already working in a science-related industry then an HND can support your career development. If you are looking to work in manufacturing, research and development, healthcare or with organic compounds, polymer chemistry or environmental protection then an HND could be an option. You can go on to a full degree, or work in a range of science-related industries such as medicines, the nuclear industry or water treatment. Like the HNC, the HND may be taken as part of an apprenticeship.

  • Advanced Level Apprenticeships are suitable if you are aged 16+ and are delivered largely by colleges and independent private training providers. Although no prior qualifications are required, many employers do ask for candidates to have five GCSEs (including maths and science) in order to be considered. You must be in science-related employment whilst studying towards your Advanced apprenticeship and will be typically studying a level 3 science qualification such as an Applied General often via day release for one day per week. It is possible to undertake an HNC as part of your advanced apprenticeship if that particular qualification would better support you in your job role. You will be supported throughout your apprenticeship by your employer and training provider and at the end of the programme you could be eligible for the Registered Science Technician (RSciTech) profesional award.

  • Foundation degrees (FdSc) are a well-recognised combined academic and work-based qualification in higher education, equivalent to two-thirds of an honours bachelor’s degree. They are a good option if you are unsure about doing a full degree, an apprenticeship, or if you are employed in science and want to enhance your knowledge. They are largely suitable for individuals aged 18+ and equip you with practical lab skills, scientific knowledge and work experience. They last two years full time and some are available to study part-time over a longer period. Student finance is also available. Foundation degrees are available in chemistry, applied chemistry, analytical chemistry, chemical and pharmaceutical science and chemical science for industry. You can go on to a full degree, or study further professional qualifications. Search for these on the UCAS website.

  • Higher Level Apprenticeships allow you to study for a Higher National Diploma (HND) in chemical science or applied chemical technology, or a Foundation degree one day per week whilst working in a science-related industry. These can last up to 5 years depending on your experience. You will likely be operating specialist laboratory equipment to test and develop new products and materials in science-related industries. You need at least five GSCEs and a set amount of UCAS points. You can progress into research and development roles, or could top-up your Foundation degree or HND to a full degree with further study. At the end of the programme you could be eligible for the Registered Scientist (RSci) professional award.

  • Degree level apprenticeships are currently only available in England and Wales. You will study for a Bachelor’s degree whilst undertaking full time work in a science-related role. These qualifications are not yet widely available but are on the increase. You will need to hold a Grade C GSCE, A level or Applied Generals. This apprenticeship takes three to five years depending on the level of experience and qualification you already have. At the end of your degree apprenticeship, you could be eligible for the Registered Scientist (RSci) professional award


Depending on what qualifications you hold there are different levels of apprenticeship that you can apply for. They also build on each other allowing you to progress.

  • Foundation apprenticeships are for 5th and 6th year secondary school students who are working towards one or two Highers. This is the only apprenticeship open to under 16s. You could be working as a Laboratory Assistant or Technician. It can lead to further study, a job, a modern or technical apprenticeship, or a related university course in some cases.

  • Modern Apprenticeships are for over 16s and there are no set entry requirements. Modern apprenticeships build on each other and range from Level 5 to 7 offering individuals the option to move from junior technician to supervising a team who are developing medicines or flavours in the food industry. These apprenticeships can last one to three years and you will gain recognised qualifications that can be used for University entry.

  • Technical Apprenticeships are suitable for over 16s, can last one to four years and are for individuals who have a modern apprenticeship level 7, equivalent qualification or work experience. You will gain an HND in Applied Chemistry, Applied Science, Industrial Biotechnology, could be employed as a Technician or Trainee Scientist improving scientific techniques, supervising others or progressing on to a University degree.

What could you be doing as an apprentice in chemistry?

  • Lab technician (Level 3/Advanced or 4/HNC)

You could be working in a lab developing household products or new medicines under highly regulated conditions. You will also prepare the lab for scientific procedures, set up equipment safely, complete routine lab testing and discuss your results with others. You will work as part of a team but also on your own to solve complex technical problems and deliver professional work.

  • Laboratory scientist, Chemical Science, Life Sciences, Research & Development, Analytical (Level 5)

You will complete a range of technical and science-related activities and will be based in a lab. You will use current ideas about science to develop and improve new methods to solve real world scientific problems and contribute to the success of your employer.

  • Laboratory scientist (Degree level)

At degree level, you could be analysing data or researching and developing new products in your specialist scientific area alongside a senior scientist. You will use established and new specialist lab equipment and techniques to conduct experiments of the highest standard to support the development of new medicines, materials and household products.

How do you search and apply for Apprenticeships?

Apprenticeships are very competitive and there are limited opportunities in science but the numbers of science-related apprenticeships are growing. You may need to apply straight to a company such as GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca or Pfizer through their website, or via your local college, university or training provider who will provide your training and could help find an employer for you. Not all apprenticeships are advertised, so being proactive in your search and talking to local colleges, universities and companies about opportunities is very important.

The Royal Society of Chemistry also collaborates with the following list of colleges who offer apprenticeships:

You can contact these colleges directly about the options that are available to you. No matter where you live, it is worth searching for local colleges and checking their website to see if they offer apprenticeships.

You can also search, register for alerts and apply for apprenticeships online. Each UK nation has their own apprenticeship service and website. Apprenticeships are available throughout the year and there is no fixed deadline, although science-related apprenticeships typically start in September. Setting up alerts on your local apprenticeship website is useful. It is also worth checking your local websites and newspapers.

If you have the right to work in the EU you can search and apply for apprenticeships across the EU on their Drop-in website. Find out more about more specific apprenticeship support in your EU country, or follow on Twitter #ApprenEU.

Applying for an apprenticeship

You will need to apply for an apprenticeship like a job by completing an application form and submitting your CV. There is a lot of information online available about how to make a good application, including this UK government publication. You can also speak to your teacher, careers advisor, training provider or the National Careers Service.

In your application you will need to show that you are committed to setting aside the time to study, be able to demonstrate your skills, attitude and behaviours in a professional workplace. You will also need to talk with enthusiasm about your interest in science, why you want to do an apprenticeship with that particular employer and what you feel you will get out of it. You should create a different application for each company or training provider. Look closely at the apprenticeship description and demonstrate how you could successfully do the job.

Where will an apprenticeship take you?

Once you have completed your apprenticeship you will hold a nationally recognised qualification, employability skills and professional experience. Whichever route you take, you will be able to advance in your career and many apprentices go on to senior roles within their companies.

  • Progress to the next apprenticeship level

Your qualification options vary based on where you are based in the UK. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland after you complete your Advanced Apprenticeship you can look for a Higher Apprenticeship, and in England you could progress on to a Degree Apprenticeship. In Scotland, you can look at Modern Apprenticeships or a Technical Apprenticeship. In Scotland, Graduate Apprenticeships were introduced in 2017 but are currently not available in chemistry-related roles.

     © Alamy
  • Keep working in your current role, or find a new job

Whether you need to find a new job or can continue in your current role is dependent on the contract you signed at the start of your apprenticeship. If you signed a permanent contract then you can continue working, as you will be seen and treated as a permanent member of staff. If you signed a fixed term contract then you will need to find a new job with the skills and qualifications you have gained. Many apprentices go on to working in areas such as polymer processing, process manufacturing, forensics, or science or laboratory technician. Find out more about what chemistry-related apprentices do.

  • Become a Registered Science Technician or Registered Scientist

The Registered Science Technician (RSciTech) and Registered Scientist (RSci) professional awards recognise the skills, knowledge and professionalism of working scientists. The registers are part of a broader recognition and development framework for those who work in science and/or chemistry based roles. In time you may also progress to gain recognition as a Chartered Scientist or Chartered Chemist.

Registered Science Technician (RSciTech) is for advanced apprentices, technicians and technical support staff and is highly regarded within both industry and education. The advanced apprenticeship has been aligned with the Registered Science Technician and so upon completing your apprenticeship you are eligible to apply for the award. The Registered Scientist (RSci) award is for those working in scientific, higher technical support roles or undertaking a higher apprenticeship. Candidates will typically be qualified to at least Level 5 and will be applying this knowledge to their roles.

Useful links

Did you know?

The UK has many world leading chemistry research departments and specialist research centres. The latest (2008) Research Assessment Exercise classed 12 chemistry and chemistry-related departments as world-leading or internationally excellent.

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