Number of apprentices aged over 50 doubled in 2008/9

The number of people over the age of 50 joining apprenticeship schemes more than doubled between 2007 and 2009, puncturing the stereotype that people in later life are reluctant to learn new skills, age campaigners said today.

Skills Funding Agency figures, obtained by campaign groups Age UK and The Age and Employment Network (TAEN), show that the number of people aged over 50 who have enrolled on apprenticeship schemes rose from 2,605 in 2007/8 to 5,376 in 2008/9.

Among them, there are now more than 400 people in their 60s and 13 in their 70s, including the oldest apprentice in the country, aged 76, the figures reveal.

The number of apprentices aged over 25 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.

However, the number is likely to drop for 2009/10 after funding for adult apprentices was scaled back last year.

The sixth series of The Apprentice began on BBC1 last night, with the oldest participant aged just 31, but Chris Ball, chief executive of TAEN, said 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,” he said.

“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.”

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 5,000-strong army of silver apprentices is a refreshing sight which defies the stereotype that older people are reluctant to learn new skills.”

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