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Should you take on an apprentice as a mobile caterer in the UK? | Guide and tips

Hiring an apprentice can be a wise investment and a wonderful opportunity for a mobile catering business. But offering to mentor the next generation of catering workers comes with weighty responsibilities. This guide will help you better understand what apprenticeships are and whether one is right for your business.

Taking the right steps now will help you make better hiring decisions, which will save you time and money in the long run. From finding the right catering van insurance to introducing a new staff member to your business, we’ve got it covered!

Whether you’re looking for catering van insurance or other policies to suit your mobile catering business and protect your staff, then give the Mobilers team a call.

Cooking Apprentice

What is an apprentice?

Apprenticeships have a long history stretching all the way back to the 12th Century. It’s a tried-and-tested method of training and recruiting a new generation of skilled workers.

We’ve traditionally associated apprenticeships with plumbers, electricians and carpenters. With an emphasis on specialist jobs requiring an in-depth knowledge of ‘the tools of the trade’.

However, modern apprenticeships have expanded beyond those areas. With the catering and hospitality trades in particular using it to develop new and passionate talent. 

The key requirement is for an apprentice to be able to work with an experienced colleague to teach them invaluable skills. While also having time to study off-site during the working week.

According to government statistics, in 2019/20, there were 719,000 people participating in an apprenticeship in England, with 322,500 apprenticeship starts and 146,900 apprenticeship achievements.

There are really no restrictions on an apprentice’s age, background, or field of work. Did you know that 47% of apprenticeships started in 2019/20 were among those aged 25 and over? While the number of women and men beginning apprenticeships were almost at the same level, with slightly more starts by men (51.2%).

Whether older workers looking for a career change or school leavers just looking to get their first taste of working life, there are ample opportunities for apprenticeships.

Be aware apprenticeship programmes are devolved to the UK’s regions. So, this guide only focuses on the system currently operating in England. If you’re an employer in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, you’ll need to contact your local apprenticeship authority for details.

Does your business need an apprentice?

Modern apprenticeships have been carefully designed to create a win-win situation for everyone involved. It’s easy to see why apprenticeships are proving so popular for the wannabe apprentices. Just some of the great benefits include the opportunity to learn skills on the job, gain nationally-recognised qualifications and earn some decent money while they do it.

For smaller businesses like mobile caterers, there are some excellent benefits on offer, too. Indeed, a startling 96% of employers with apprentices have experienced at least one benefit. Some of the advantages your business might see are:

New skills added to your business

Is there a lucrative business opportunity you’re not able to take advantage of because of a gap in training? Mobile catering is a fast-moving market, so if you’ve identified a skills gap in your team then you’ll want to fill it.

Why not use the opportunity of an apprenticeship scheme to train up new employees in these areas? In a government survey evaluating the success of apprenticeships, 86% of employers said apprentices helped to develop relevant skills for their business and fill the skills gap.

Savings on costs

In the past, adding new skills or talent to your business could be an expensive process. Recently, hiring an apprentice has become a much more cost-effective way with plenty of funding and grants to cover the costs to your business. Indeed, depending on your business size and eligibility, most apprenticeship training costs are either fully or partially (95%) funded by the government.

Upskilling on a budget? An apprenticeship could be the right option for your catering van business.

Boosts productivity

Apprentices are not only uber-enthusiastic to learn from you and your team, but they become highly skilled employees well before they finish their training. 74% of employers say apprentices have improved products or service quality. While 78% of employers say they have improved productivity.

Bespoke support for your business

Every business needs an extra pair of hands or two to help out when it gets busy! But the true value of an apprentice is they have been trained with your unique business needs in mind.

They aren’t just an extra body in the kitchen, they’re an integral part of your team. Teach them about the common kitchen accidents and how to prevent them in case of any accidents that may take place, too.

Promotes loyalty and staff retention

A large percentage of apprentices will stay on after completing their course. While other employees also report the positive effect on staff morale of having an apprentice around.

Plus, there’s the added bonus of them already being familiar with your brand, business, customers, and ways of working. Your loyal customers will also love seeing a familiar, friendly face so you should also see a benefit there, too!

Provides a new perspective

Whether a younger person who’s familiar with the latest technology or an older person with a wealth of unique skills and experience, it’s a great way to explore new possibilities as a business.

Positive impact on your local community

Mobile catering vans are an important part of local communities. What better way to give back than to give someone such a great opportunity? And customers like seeing someone being given a helping hand to get on.

How are apprentices different from trainees?

In some respects, apprentices and trainees are similar. They’re both government-backed vocational schemes, involving both work and study, for those looking to get into particular industries. However, they are very different in terms of the level of commitment required and the value they could give to your business.

A traineeship is a course with a work placement element. They’re usually short-term, lasting anywhere between a few weeks up to around six months. They're also unpaid, though may include expenses. And are aimed at those between 16 and 24 who have little or no work experience or qualifications at Level 3 or above.

They’re often seen as a stepping stone towards a full apprenticeship. For traineeships, after the probationary period either the trainee or employer can choose to cancel it. While if a new owner took over your business, they wouldn’t have to keep trainees on.

In contrast, apprenticeships are longer term, paid and give apprentices all the same rights as a regular employee. They will have a contract with you, and both the apprentice and the employer must agree if the contract is to be terminated after the probationary period. If you sell your business, the new owners will have to honour that contract just as they would for any other employee.

Remember, both trainees and apprentices are covered by health and safety laws. So, while you’re considering catering van insurance, it’s also wise to ensure any policy also covers employers liability, too. After all, if there is an accident you want all your staff to be protected.

Deciding on what apprenticeship could suit your business

Apprenticeships are not a one-size-fits-all solution. There are many types to choose from. First you need to consider what level of apprenticeship to offer. There are three levels offering a variety of different qualifications and having different entry requirements.

Intermediate (Level 2) is generally considered equivalent to five GCSE passes. Apprenticeships at this level include those training to be a production chef or hospitality team member.

Advanced (Level 3) is generally considered equivalent to two A level passes. Apprenticeships at this level include those training to be a senior production chef or hospitality supervisor.       

Higher (Level 4 and above) - Level 4 is generally considered equivalent to an HNC, a foundation degree, or the first year of an undergraduate degree. Level 4 apprenticeships include those training to be a senior culinary chef or hospitality manager.

While Level 5 up to Level 7 are equivalent to a full or even a master’s degree. However, most apprenticeships offered within the catering and hospitality industry range between Level 2 and Level 4.

You’ll then need to consider what your apprentice will be doing and the skills, knowledge and behaviours required. This is known as an apprenticeship standard and is a vital part of the decision-making process. All UK apprenticeships have been created by groups of employers known as ‘trailblazers’ with the support of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education.

On the Institute’s website you can easily find out the full details of each approved apprenticeship standard. This will include information about how the apprenticeship is assessed, its duration, and funding available.

Another important source of information can be found on the websites of training providers such as HIT Training. Here you’ll find a quick summary of many of the apprenticeships on offer to help you understand whether this apprenticeship is right for your business.

Young worker

Finding the right course and training provider

As well as deciding what level of apprenticeship to offer, you’ll also need to consider what training provider you’ll use. It’s vital you find the right one suited to your business. As you’ll work with them to devise a programme to suit your business requirements as well as provide skills training and assessment. HIT Training is one of the biggest national organisations but there are others worth considering.

Businesses can use theFind apprenticeship training’ service to search for the right training provider. If you can’t find something suitable then you can also share your needs with all training providers.

It might be that one can help meet your particular requirements. After all, if you need a particular variety of apprenticeship training then chances are other mobile caterers will, too.

While you’re looking for a training provider it’s also important to consider what happens at the end of the apprenticeship.

The final stage of any apprenticeship is called the end-point assessment (EPA). This is an impartial assessment performed by an independent organisation called an end-point assessment organisation (EPAO). It will decide whether your apprentice has developed the skills, knowledge and behaviours outlined in the apprenticeship standard.

Choosing an EPAO as early as possible is important as it will ensure you and your apprentice fully understand the assessment criteria and how they will be assessed. An EPAO can be chosen either directly or through your training provider.

So, by all means ask their advice about which EPAO would be the best fit. You can search for an EPAO yourself using the online tool 'Find an end-point assessment organisation for your apprentice.'

Check what funding is available

As you can imagine, such high-level training doesn’t come free. But don’t worry, there’s plenty of help available from the government to pay for apprenticeship training.

The amount of help you’ll receive will depend on whether you pay something called the apprenticeship levy or not. Introduced in 2017 by the government, it’s a levy on employers used to fund apprenticeship training.

If you’re an employer with a pay bill over £3m a year then you pay the levy at a rate of 0.5% of your pay bill. You can use these funds to pay for training and assessing your apprentices.

The government will top up to the funds you have in your account by 10%. If you don’t have enough funds, you just pay 5% of the outstanding balance and the government will pay the rest. However, this is only up to the funding band maximum allocated to each specific apprenticeship. Once you exceed this, you’ll need to pay the additional costs.

If your business isn’t big enough to pay the apprenticeship levy, you pay just 5% towards the cost of training and assessing an apprentice. The government will pay the rest up to the funding band maximum.

For smaller businesses employing fewer than 50 employees, the government will pay 100% of the apprenticeship training costs up to the funding band maximum for apprentices aged 16-18. Or those aged 19-24 with an education, health and care plan or have been in local authority care.

Any business seeking to reserve apprenticeship funding needs to create an apprenticeship service account. From 1st April 2021, businesses who don’t pay the levy can reserve funds up to six months in advance of the apprenticeship start date.

For 2021/22, those businesses will be able to make up to 10 new reservations to fund new starts. So, if you’re looking for a team of catering apprentices to start in your fleet of catering vans then now could be the time to do it!

Once you’ve created an apprenticeship service account, you’ll need to grant your chosen training provider account permissions to complete actions on your behalf.

Another funding option worth considering is other large, levy-paying businesses. These businesses can pledge up to 25% of their unspent levy funds to a business of their choice. You can view all live pledges using this government website.

There’s plenty more on apprenticeship funding rules and guidance for employers in this guidance from the Education & Skills Funding Agency.

Are there other incentive payments available for hiring a new apprentice?

Not only can you get help with training and assessment costs but you may also be able to apply for decent incentive payments.

You’ll currently receive £1,000 for hiring an apprentice aged 16-18. Or one aged 19-24 with an education, health and care plan or who has been in local authority care.

For new apprentices of any age who have an employment start date between 1st October 2021 to 31st January 2022, you could receive a £3,000 incentive payment. Applications close on 15th May 2022.

There’s also a government service to help you hire apprentices who have been made redundant. Many of these will already have the skills and knowledge you need and can quickly add value to your business. But not only will this shorten the time you’ll see a return on your investment. Incentive payments are also available if you’re hiring a new apprentice. What a win for everyone!

Remember if you do take on an apprentice, make sure you have the right catering van insurance and mobile catering insurance in place to protect them and their working environment.

What about National Insurance contributions and apprentice pay?

Just like any employee, you’ll need to consider National Insurance contributions and pay for your apprentice.

You might not need to pay Class 1 National Insurance contributions, if they’re under 25 years old, on an approved apprenticeship standard, and earn less than £967 a week. For further information read this HMRC guidance.

You’ll also need to pay them for their normal working hours and any training they do as part of the apprenticeship. This has to be at least the National Minimum Wage rate depending on their age and the year of apprenticeship training they’re in.

Age All ages (first year base rate) Under 19s 19-20 year olds 21-24 year olds 25 year olds


£4.15 £4.15 £6.45 £8.20 £8.72

If you’re a small business then you might have many legal and financial questions. So, why not consider joining the Nationwide Caterers Association? As well as lots of advice and help you might also get a discount on your catering van insurance.

Finding an apprentice right for you

Once you’ve found the right course and training provider to deliver your apprenticeship training, you’ll need to find an apprentice.

You might already have someone in mind but if you don’t, you (or your training provider) can advertise your apprenticeship for free on the government’s 'Find an apprenticeship' service. It’s ideal for setting up adverts, reviewing applications and managing candidates within your apprenticeship service account.

When hiring an apprentice, it’s worth keeping these important questions in mind.

  • Is your apprentice already enrolled on another apprenticeship programme or studying at university or college? Apprentices can’t be enrolled on more than one programme at a time.
  • Do they already have a qualification at the same or higher level as the apprenticeship? An apprentice can’t already be achieving the standards of the apprenticeship programme. After all, an apprenticeship is all about showing development and learning new skills.
  • Have they passed English and Maths? Meeting the required level of English and Maths is a mandatory part of apprenticeships. If they don’t have grade A* to C (9-1) in their English and Maths GCSEs or equivalent they will need to achieve Level 2 Functional Skills English and Maths before the end of the apprenticeship.
  • Will they be able to spend 20% of their time on off-the-job training? This is an important requirement in order for them to be able to develop their skills. But this can be delivered flexibly either at their usual place of work or at an external location.
  • Are there opportunities for them to learn about other aspects of your business? Finding out all they can about how your overall business works and the mobile catering sector are important parts of apprenticeship.
  • Is there someone who can commit to coaching them in their new role? An apprenticeship isn’t just about allowing them to perform the usual tasks of the job. It’s all about them developing new knowledge and skills.
  • Will there be someone who can commit to checking on the apprentice’s progress? An apprentice needs time off-the-job and their progress needs to be closely mapped against the apprenticeship standards. This will require commitment from someone in the business.

Once you’ve recruited an apprentice, there’s still a lot to do. As well as signing a contract of employment, you’ll need to add them to your apprenticeship service account and ensure you’ve created an apprenticeship agreement and commitment statement.

HIT Training has an invaluable learner guide for hospitality and catering apprenticeships that’s well worth a read. It sets out the journey of an apprentice from when they are first hired all the way through to the EPA.

Catering van insurance from Mobilers

Finding the right people for your business is just one of the ways to ensure success.

You always need the right catering van insurance cover in place to protect your vehicle, too.

Get a quote for catering van insurance today.

Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.

Frequently asked question

How can I up skill my apprentice quickly for my food van?

Upskilling your apprentice for your mobile food business can be an exciting journey. Immerse them in the day-to-day operations to give them real-world experience. Start with basic tasks like food prep, cleaning, and customer service, then gradually introduce more complex aspects like inventory management and menu planning.

Encourage them to attend food industry seminars and workshops for an enriched learning experience. Online courses on food safety and handling can add another feather to their cap. Remember, the quicker they learn, the sooner they'll become an invaluable asset to your mobile food business.

How do I let go of my apprentice for my food truck business?

Letting go of an apprentice in your mobile food business can be a challenging task, especially if they've been with you for a while. However, it is important to remember that businesses evolve and sometimes tough decisions need to be made.

Always approach the situation with empathy and honesty. Explain the reasons for your decision clearly and provide constructive feedback. Make sure to appreciate their contributions to your business and assure them that this decision is not a reflection of their personal worth.

Can catering trailers be good environments for young people to learn skills?

Catering trailers or mobile food businesses are indeed an excellent platform for young people to learn and master new skills. As dynamic, fast-paced environments, they offer young individuals the opportunity to hone their culinary skills, develop customer service abilities, and learn the ins-and-outs of running a small business.

They're also a wonderful place to learn about food hygiene regulations, cash handling and management. These hands-on experiences not only enrich their understanding of the food industry but also equip them with foundational knowledge that can be useful in various job scenarios.

What tasks can I give my apprentice for my mobile catering trailer?

An apprentice in your mobile food business can be a great asset, helping you manage various tasks efficiently. Some of the tasks that you can assign to your apprentice include food preparation, maintaining the cleanliness of the trailer, and managing inventory. With time, your apprentice will learn the ins and outs of the business, becoming an indispensable part of your team.

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