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How to balance work and study as an apprentice

By Newcastle University
Apprentices working on laptops during study session

An apprenticeship is an investment in your future. It could be a chance to kickstart your career, or the opportunity to develop the skills and knowledge you need to go to the next level.

It’s also a time commitment as you combine your work with study. How you sustain that commitment and enjoy your learning is all about finding your balance.

Know what to expect

Key to striking the right balance between work and study is knowing what to expect during your apprenticeship.

Although you will continue to spend the majority of your working week in your job role, you will also complete off-the-job training. This is learning that takes place outside of your day-to-day work duties, but during work hours. It can take place at a college, university or with a training provider.

You must spend at least 20% of your working hours in off-the-job training, giving you the time to focus and develop the skills, knowledge and behaviours you need to achieve your apprenticeship.

How that training is delivered will depend on your programme. A clean-cut way to satisfy the 20% requirement is to set aside one day a week, but it doesn’t have to be that prescriptive; you can accrue your training in smaller chunks, block release, or online study blended with class-room learning.

Outside of work hours, you will also need to devote time in the evening and at weekends to study as part of your apprenticeship.

Manage your time

With more demands on your time, you will need to manage your work and study periods carefully.

The good news is the best time management techniques are simple to implement. So, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Create structure: use a calendar to plan out your week – for your job and your apprenticeship. Block out time to complete the things you need to do, whether that’s a work task, training or study session. Organising what you need to achieve will help you feel in control.
  2. Prioritise wisely: draw up a ‘to-do’ list, ranking your tasks in order of priority. If you need support with this, talk to your line manager or employer so they are aware of the demands on your time and can help you prioritise in line with business need and your apprenticeship programme.
  3. Set deadlines: set limits on the amount of time you spend per task – it will help you focus. Set reminders, too, so you don’t miss a deadline.
  4. Set the right goals: set goals that are achievable in the time you have allocated. If in doubt, remember to work SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely.
  5. Stay focused: your time is precious, so don’t waste it. In particular, find the right environment to study in so you are not distracted. Factor in structured breaks during study sessions; you will feel the benefit and stay on track.
  6. Avoid multi-tasking: give your full attention to your current task before moving on to the next one. Juggling multiple tasks at the same time is distracting and unsatisfying, plus you don’t need the additional stress.

Take time out

Sound impossible with so much to get through at work and in your apprenticeship?

Downtime is vital to staying productive and for your mental health. If you are going to sustain your commitment to your apprenticeship – particularly if your programme is over a number of years – downtime needs to be built in from the outset.

You need downtime to relax and unwind, whether that is during your working week or on holiday. It can help you refocus, giving you a different perspective when you go back to work. And it resets your energy levels and your enthusiasm for your job and your learning.

Explore support at work

Make the most of the support at work, so you spend your time as productively as possible.

As part of your apprenticeship you should be assigned a workplace mentor who will provide advice and guidance. Your mentor can also act as a sounding board for ideas and action plans, so use this valuable resource.

Ask to shadow key colleagues to give you a better understanding of the business and how your work fits with the wider team. Explore opportunities to meet other current or previous apprentices so you can share experiences of balancing work and study.

Talk to your employer about on-the-job work experience and training and how this can support your learning. Opportunities in the workplace can help you develop, practice and evidence the knowledge and skills you need to meet your programme requirements.

Your employer also has a key role to play in preparing you for your end-point assessment (EPA), when your work and competence will be assessed. So, if you need support for assignments or study leave in the run-up to assessments and exams, ask – your employer is there to support you.

Remember, apprenticeships allow employers to nurture talent in the workforce, tailoring it to their business needs. They’re invested in the scheme, in your success, and in helping you balance the demands of your work and learning.

Remember why you’re doing this

Don’t lose sight of why you are doing an apprenticeship. Not only are they about new opportunities, they are also about your personal and professional growth – about learning what you love.

Find out more

Learn more about higher and degree apprenticeships and explore the programmes we offer at Newcastle University. 

Tags: Working with Business, Degree Apprenticeships