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Why not a Senior Apprentice, Lord Sugar?

Published on 05 October 2010 11:30 PM

After a Junior, why not a Senior Apprentice, Lord Sugar?

Record numbers of older apprentices bust the myth of learning-shy older people, says Age UK.

As the sixth series of the popular talent show The Apprentice kicks off on BBC 1 tonight - with the oldest participant aged 31 - new figures released by Age UK show apprenticeships are embraced by growing numbers of people aged 50-plus, dealing a major blow to the stereotype that people in later life are reluctant to learn new skills.

Statistics obtained from the Skills Funding Agency by Age UK and TAEN - The Age and Employment Network (1) show the number of people aged 50-plus who have enrolled on apprenticeship schemes has ballooned over the last four years leading to a record number of over five thousands ‘silver' apprentices. Among them, there are now over 400 people in their 60s, 13 in their 70s, including the oldest apprentice in the country, aged 76.

Despite younger people making up the bulk of the apprentice workforce (76%), the number of 25-plus apprentices has more than doubled between 2007/08 and 2008/09 at the height of the recession, a rate of increase consistent across all older age groups (2). In particular, the number of 50-plus apprentices leapt from 2,605 to 5,376 over the same period, showing a clear willingness for older workers to learn new skills.

Research by the former Learning and Skills Council shows most 25-plus workers use apprenticeships to develop their skills under their current employers (50%) or move on to a new job (33%) (3). While no similar figures are available for 50-plus workers, the steep rise in the number of apprentices in this age group during the recession suggests that some 50-plus workers may have opted for apprenticeships to elude unemployment.

The number of 25-plus apprentices first rocketed in 2007/08 from just 300 to 27,200 after the Government started funding apprenticeships for this age group. Prior to this, the record shows only a handful of apprentices over the age of 50 enrolled on early pilot schemes. The increase is still surprising considering that employers receive far less funding for employing older apprentices (4), indicating that these learners can add substantial value to businesses.

Terry Robinson, 70, is one of the oldest apprentices in the country. He's taking a retail apprenticeship specialising in hardware, and works at B&Q's Oxford store from 8am until noon every day. Terry said: 'I am a real people person and I enjoy speaking to customers and meeting people, so the apprenticeship enhances my confidence when helping and advising on products. You're never too old to learn new things.'

Michelle Mitchell, Age UK Charity Director, said: 'It's great to see so many 50-plus workers snap up the opportunity to upgrade their skills or make a fresh start with their careers through an apprenticeship. This five-thousand strong army of silver apprentices is a refreshing sight which defies the stereotype that older people are reluctant to learn new skills and sends a clear message that age is no barrier to what people can achieve. Our ageing society is reshaping the job market but employment legislation hasn't kept pace with it. The Government must stand by its decision to abolish forced retirement while ensuring older workers have access to training opportunities and receive tailored back-to-work support when unemployed.'

Chris Ball, Chief Executive of TAEN, says: 'Contrary to popular belief apprentices are not all young people starting out in their working lives. These figures demonstrate that ever larger numbers of older people have been seizing opportunities to retrain and pursue new career paths despite the challenges of recession. TAEN welcome these statistics. Many bosses, in particular, are to be applauded for giving older workers the chance to develop their skills by taking apprenticeships within their organisation. However we believe that more employers need to follow suit and make it possible for those in later life to take apprenticeships so that they can continue to contribute their skills and dedication to businesses and the wider economy.'

- ENDS -

Notes to Editors

  1. The figures were obtained from the Skills Funding Agency through a Freedom of Information request by Age UK. A different breakdown by age is also available at (table S11.1)
  2. The number of apprentices under the age of 25 has marginally declined over the same period.
  3. The Benefits of Completing an Apprenticeship, Learning & Skills Council, April 2009. Pg 5
  4. 'The size of the contribution varies depending on your sector and the age of the candidate. If the apprentice is aged 16-18 years old, you will receive 100 per cent of the cost of the training; if they are 19-24 years old, you will receive up to 50 per cent; if they are 25 years old or over you may only get a contribution depending on the sector and area in which you operate.' (From the National Apprenticeships Service website at
  5. A case studies is available, please contact the press office for further details.

Age UK is the new force combining Age Concern and Help the Aged. The Age UK family includes Age Scotland, Age Cymru and Age NI.

TAEN - The Age and Employment Network works to promote an effective job market that serves the needs of people in mid and later life, employers and the economy. TAEN is a network organisation. Its members include a wide range of organisations from across the labour market, including employers, professional bodies, unions and many others. TAEN informs and advocates for effective age management policies at all levels and is an important source of information on everything relating to age and employment.

Media contact: Vicky Smith
Telephone: 020 8765 7514
Out-of-hours: 07071 243 243

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Last updated: Oct 06 2017

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