School leaver programmes: the lowdown

  • Emma Finamore
  • Last updated 06 Jan 2020

Find out everything you need to know about school leaver programmes, including how to choose a programme, what to expect from your training, what A-levels you will need, and the skills you will gain. 


Choosing a school leaver programme

You’ve decided that you definitely want to do a school leaver programme, but now you need to figure out which schemes to apply for.

Sending an application to every company that offers a school leaver programme in the UK certainly isn’t the best idea. It’s all about pinpointing a small selection of school leaver programmes that really appeal to you.

You can then spend your time making sure your applications are as good as they can possibly be.

To help you choose a school leaver programme, we’ve put together a list of the things you should consider when making your decision.

What industry?

First things first, you need to figure out which industry you want to work in. School leaver programmes are up for grabs in a range of different sectors, from engineeringretail and defence to constructionPR and accounting.

You need to think hard about your skills and interests and find an industry that will match them perfectly. You could start by checking out the types of school leaver programme - there are lots of different programmes available across various industries. 

Alternatively, if you’re completely clueless and need a nudge in right direction, you should have a go at our Career Test. It’ll ask you a bunch of questions.

Based on your answers, it’ll learn more about your personality, skills and interests and recommend five industry sectors which you should explore in more detail.

What's the company reputation like?

The vast majority of companies that offer school leaver programmes are large, established and reputable organisations. Certain companies may have a reputation for the best training, while others may be known for their relaxed company culture.

We've gathered our top 100 employers for school leavers and apprenticeships in one handy place, so you can check out which of the big names are doing well.

Alternatively, you could try talking to other young people on student forums to get the inside scoop on different school leaver programmes.

What qualifications will I get?

Most school leaver programmes will give you the opportunity to work towards a professional qualification, undergraduate degree or foundation degree.

Some schemes may even endow you with more than one qualification, perhaps a degree and a professional qualification.

Check out the different schemes in your sector of choice and figure out the level of education you’re keen to achieve. Let that dictate your decision. Simple.

How long is the programme?

Like homemade spaghetti, school leaver programmes come in many different lengths. Some last as long as five years, while some are much shorter, i.e. one or two years.

You really need to think about how long you want to be committed to one company. After all, a five year school leaver scheme will give you fantastic job security, but will also give you less flexibility. It’s really up to you!

How much will I earn?

As a rule, school leaver programmes pay quite well. Some, however, pay better than others. Check out our job listings and employer profiles to find out more. Essentially, you need to consider how important a high salary is to you.

The majority of school leavers are paid between £17,000 and £24,000, but do you want to opt for the schemes with the highest salaries? It’s a judgement call that only you can make!

How will my career progress?

School leaver programmes are a fantastic way of entering the job market; however, you also need to think about the next step of your career, i.e. after the school leaver programme has finished.

What is the likelihood that you will be kept on after completing the scheme? How much money will you earn? What level of responsibility will you be given? Will you be able to take your qualifications elsewhere?

What A-level grades do I need for a school leaver programme?

Here’s the good news: The majority of school leaver programmes are open to students with either two or three A-levels in any subject!

School leaver programmes: A-levels

This means that, providing you meet their minimum requirements – ABB, ABC, BBB, for example – you could pursue a career in sectors such as businessfinance and accounting, banking, engineering,technology or retail, straight after your A-levels.

School leaver programmes: UCAS points

Some employers might to look for applicants with a certain number of UCAS points from their A-levels (check the UCAS website for converting your grades into points, as the system changed between 2016 and 2017) so if you achieve this you could be in with a very good chance of a school leaver programme spot.

Make sure you check out the specifics on the employer website, and take care to check the GCSE requirements too: more often than not they will expect a minimum grade for English and Maths, the same as most employers for “normal” job applications.

And watch out – most employers will not accept General Studies! 

School leaver programmes are a fantastic way of entering the job market; however, you also need to think about the next step of your career, i.e. after the school leaver programme has finished.

School leaver training

If you’re accepted onto a school leaver programme, you’ll earn a handsome wage, you’ll dodge the bullet of student debt, and you’ll get your foot on the career ladder earlier than your friends who go to university. More importantly, though, you will receive world-class training, which will equip you with the skills to really thrive in your career.

You might have natural ability, determination and an unrelenting desire to succeed, but the training you receive as a school leaver will really make a difference. Wayne Rooney, Hatem Ben Arfa and Gareth Bale all had natural talent when they got their first break in football, but the work they’ve done on the training ground with their respective Premier League clubs is what’s helped them develop into true superstars of the beautiful game. It’s the same deal with school leaver programmes. Training is of paramount importance.

So what kind of training will you actually receive?

School leaver training - Induction period

Joining a large company straight from sixth form can be a daunting prospect. Fortunately though, most companies won’t drop you straight in at the deep end. It’s likely that your life as a school leaver trainee will begin with an induction period.

Your induction might last a few days, it might last a few weeks, but it will essentially give you a comprehensive introduction to the company, your new role and what to expect over the next few years.

This will also be an opportunity for you to spend some time with the other school leaver trainees and get to know your line managers. The induction period is also likely to involve a number of social events, which will give you an opportunity to get to know your colleagues better.


Once the induction period is over, it’ll be time to knuckle down. A large proportion of your training will be done on-the-job under the supervision of a senior member of staff.

This is arguably the most vital aspect of your training. You’ll be rolling up your sleeves, getting your hands dirty, strapping on the nosebag and eating some serious work. The best way to learn about a job is by actually doing the job. What’s more, it will be a perfect way to apply what you learn in the classroom to a real-life work situation.

As part of your on-the-job training, you might complete a set of rotations, where you’ll work in one department for six months, then another department for the next six months, and so on. This is a great way of gaining experience in different areas of the business, developing a variety of skills, and figuring out which area of the business you would like to specialise in once you’ve completed the programme.


As part of your school leaver programme, you will work towards a professional qualification, a foundation degree or an undergraduate degree. This part of your training is likely to involve attending lectures and workshops, doing a lot of self-study, completing assignments and sitting exams.

You might spend one day at college and four days working for the company, or you might be sent to a training centre on block release. For some school leaver programmes, you might attend university for a year, before returning to work full-time for the company and finishing your qualification through distance learning.

Either way you’ll have to work hard to succeed. It’ll be worth it, though! Once you’ve completed the qualification, you will most likely be given more responsibility and you may even get a pay rise.

In-house training sessions

Finally, it’s likely that you will also be required to take part in in-house training sessions and skills workshops from time-to-time, which will be organised by your company and held in your offices on a regular basis. These sessions will give you the opportunity to find out more about the business, keep up-to-date with industry developments, and learn about the latest business processes and computer systems that you will be using in your role.

Support & feedback

In addition to your training, you will receive ongoing support from senior colleagues and receive regular feedback on your performance. This support and feedback will most likely be given in a structured way. For instance, you may be required to take part in mid-rotation and end-of-rotation appraisals with your line manager.

What skills will I develop on a school leaver programme?

In terms of skills, school leaver programmes could be viewed as a combination: the benefits of a traditional degree, and of real workplace experience.

School leaver programmes:  life skills 

People completing such schemes benefit from simply having a “proper” job; developing essential interpersonal, time-management and target-focussed skills – working with a team and being able to manage working relationships, meetings and colleague expectations is a real advantage.

Simply becoming accustomed to getting out of bed, leaving the house and getting somewhere at a certain time every day is a useful habit to get into, which some young people can really struggle with!

School leaver programmes also include development and mentoring support from experienced colleagues, as well as “rotation” – spending time in many different departments – making school leavers super-employable and rounded in their experience. It is often easier to secure a role with a leading company as a school leaver than it is as a graduate, when competition is tougher.

School leaver programmes:  academic skills 

Some programmes are centred on attaining a bachelor’s degree or foundation degree, while others might focus on the achievement of a professional qualification. A few schemes will combine them both, offering their trainees the chance to obtain a degree and a postgraduate professional qualification as part of the  same scheme. Here are examples of the professional qualifications that can be achieved on a school leaver programme :

ATT  (Association of Tax Technicians)

This is one of the main qualifications employers within the tax industry will look for when they’re on the hunt for candidates for their senior positions. The modules covered are Personal Taxation, Business Taxation & Accounting Principles, Business Compliance, Corporate Taxation, Inheritance Tax, Trusts & Estates and VAT.

ICAEW CFAB (Certificate in Finance, Accounting and Business)

This is an internationally recognised certificate that provides essential knowledge in business, finance and accounting.

ACCA (Association of Certified Chartered Accountants)

Completion of the ACCA exams allows entrants to become members of the Association of Certified Chartered Accountants, it normally takes around three or four years to complete and qualify as a professional accountant. The ACCA qualification is recognised globally.

CILEx (Chartered Institute of Legal Executives)

This is a qualification for school leavers who want to become legal executives. Those on School Leaver Programmes can study for CILEx Levels 3 and 6.

Start searching!

The best way to choose a school leaver programme is to look at the actual opportunities out there. Do your research and see which programmes float your boat. You can read up on the different programmes by checking out our employer profiles.

What’s more, you can begin your school leaver programme search on our school leaver jobs board. Go on, we dare you!

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