The importance of apprenticeships for older workers – and employers

Rachael Saunders,  Age Campaign Director Business in the Community reminds business that age should not be a barrier to learning at work. 

Rachael Saunders

It is really good news that older apprenticeships are included in the apprenticeship levy – a huge opportunity for us to scale up opportunities in later life.

Earlier this week I was at a round table on apprenticeships at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to mark National Apprenticeships Week. It was a powerful session, introduced by Baroness Altman and with a great range of speakers. One particular highlight was Whitbread’s Sandra Kelly, who spoke compellingly about the importance of apprenticeships to bringing talent into her business. What we need next is for more employers to recognise that talent is not age-dependent, and to make a greater number apprenticeships open to older workers as well as young people.

We know that apprenticeships are a great way to start a successful career and gain new skills. However, a recent survey by British Gas found that apprenticeships are still overwhelmingly assumed to be reserved for school leavers, whilst 23% of people believe they are too old to start an apprenticeship. So how can employers ensure their apprenticeship schemes attract people of all ages?

Many employers have started their own apprenticeship schemes aimed at older workers, including Barclays and National Express, whilst a third of current British Gas apprentices are over 30. But employers should also consider opening up existing apprenticeship schemes to older workers too. For example, they could monitor the age ranges of applicants at each stage of the process and use this to address any gaps, or provide unconscious bias training to staff involved in recruiting for apprenticeships. Using a range of recruitment channels could also help employers attract more older workers to their apprenticeship schemes.

Whilst a lot of discussions around apprenticeships focus on young people, it’s important not to forget that apprenticeships can be hugely valuable for older workers too.

At the DWP event this week, Aviva raised the important point about part-time apprenticeships, which would allow people to work and learn flexibly without taking much longer to gain qualifications. This could particularly benefit older workers who may have health issues or caring responsibilities which may prevent them working full-time, yet who still want to retrain. ‘Traineeships’ can also be a valuable entry point and employers should consider how they can reach out to older people who need this support. 

Whilst a lot of discussions around apprenticeships focus on young people, it’s important not to forget that apprenticeships can be hugely valuable for older workers too. They can be a lifeline to a new job. With a million over-50s who are not working saying they would like to return to employment, an apprenticeship could be a great route to beginning a new career.  Apprenticeships can also mean progression with an organisation, benefitting employers who can take advantage of their skills and experience.  We cannot allow age to be a barrier to learning at work.