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How old is too old to become an apprentice?

June 13, 2017

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"It’s a pity more people do not realise that there is no upper age limit to take up an apprenticeship. At 25, a person still has over 40 years of work ahead of them. It’s commonplace now for people in their 20s to decide to change careers, having woken up to the fact that their dream job in their teens is something that no longer interests them", says Lindsey Young, HR & Training Director.

I’ve lost count of the number of people who we’ve met at careers fairs who intend to walk past our stand because they think they are too old to embark upon an electrical apprenticeship. It’s then highly motivating to bring a smile to their face when we tell them that our apprenticeships are not just for school leavers and that some of our best apprentices joined us in their thirties or forties.

It’s true that some apprenticeships are more physically demanding than others. Our electrical apprenticeship falls into that category, which may mean that some older people may be deterred from applying if they do not wish to lift heavy drums of cable or cannot face the prospect of constant early morning starts. But we adopt the approach that we want to employ the best person for the job, regardless of age.

Future team leaders

When we recruit apprentices, we tell them that we’re looking for our team leaders and area managers of the future. Older people who have had previous supervisory experience in catering or retail would be able to bring management skills to the table that we could utilise later in their careers.

Taking on an apprenticeship later in life is a big financial commitment, especially when you may have got used to earning a reasonable wage in a former job. But we advise older applicants to look beyond the apprenticeship wage and focus on the bigger picture post-qualification, when our qualified electricians can earn £1,000 a week.

Forty-three-year-old Ian Merriott is one of 89 apprentices employed by Clarkson Evans over the age of 25 years old.

Ian, one of our Southampton apprentices, started his electrical apprenticeship on his 40th birthday after 21 years working in the NHS as a mental health nurse.

Now he’s almost qualified and looking forward to becoming a team leader in his own right.

His career change was sparked by the fact that his nursing role was becoming increasingly office-based and instead Ian wanted a fresh challenge where he could use his strong maths and interpersonal skills.

Having kept physically fit all his life the demands of a construction site have been manageable for Ian, who says his early morning starts as an electrician are nothing compared to NHS shift patterns.

Transferring his solid communication skills to the electrical industry means Ian has had no difficulty getting on with colleagues and other trades on site – an invaluable skill if you wish to work efficiently.

As an older worker Ian is highly resilient and proud to tell people he hasn’t had a day off sick since he joined the company. He can cope with setbacks and has the maturity to make the most of the opportunity he’s been given.

Now with weekends off work Ian has more time to spend with his children, a benefit that appealed to Ian when looking for a career change.

Life’s too short to be stuck in a dead-end job with no prospects for career progression. Our career changers are many and varied. From lifeguard, to chef, landscape gardener and dental nurse we’ve had a whole raft of people decide that retraining to become an electrician offers them a bright future.

You’ll be surprised by how many skills you already have which would be useful in the electrical industry.

Attention to detail is essential for our electricians and people working in admin and finance roles often have this skill in abundance. Cutting corners can result in dire consequences on site and so a conscientious attitude, developed in the finance industry, can often help smooth the transition to becoming an electrician. Being organised is key to both jobs as is the ability to get on with a range of people.

The discipline and teamwork learnt in the military is also a great match with being an electrician. Working on a construction site means you’ll be expected to follow instructions, get on with your job in all weathers and remain focussed when the going gets tough.

There’s also a lot of similarities between working in retail and being an electrician. With daily targets to meet and customers to keep happy, working on site or in a busy supermarket are surprisingly similar. Being a shop assistant or an on-site electrician both involve the need to have a flexible attitude to deal with seasonal peaks and troughs of work and being prepared to put in a few extra hours to get the job done, when things get busy.

While other electrical contractors miss a trick by directing their recruitment marketing only at school leavers, we’ll continue to fish in a bigger demographic pool for our future apprentices and reap the benefit of employing older candidates.