As National Apprenticeship Week gets under way, construction leaders should consider the benefits of recruiting older apprentices
Half of people aged over 50 in England experienced age discrimination last year, according to findings from the charity Centre for Ageing Better.
We in construction tasked with attracting the next generation of apprentices should always be on our guard against prejudice.
But I want to go further and at least pose the question: should employers actually be discriminating in favour of older apprentices?
I can almost hear the protests from those who regard apprentices as a tribe of young, keen 16 to 24-year-olds, with trades or technology on the agenda and mentors waiting in the wings to guide them through their modules.
But let’s consider those older apprentices for a moment. What are the positives for employers?
Advantages of older apprentices
Eyebrows might be raised if an apprentice is much older than 25. However, there are some compelling reasons to choose more potential apprentices in, say, their sixties…
- For one thing, they have experience you can’t buy. Older apprentices will almost certainly have worked for a while, been there, got the t-shirt. Their skillset will probably be transferable and segue into any chosen apprenticeship course.
- They’ll know their own minds. They might choose to be a carpenter or plumber because it’s always been something they dreamed of being. There is unlikely to be that awkward “I think I might have made the wrong career choice” conversation.
- Children are likely to have flown the nest, so fewer distractions.
- They are likely to be loyal to whoever trains them because, let’s face it, mapping out a stellar career progression covering the next 30 years, switching between firms, is almost certainly not on the agenda.
- Let’s go back to their experience. They can act as mentors to younger apprentices who, in turn, will want to share their own thoughts on the training course and practical work. Bringing in different perspectives is healthy for a business.
- Finally, let’s look at the stats: older apprenticeships are nothing new. Nearly half of all apprenticeships started in 2021/22 were by people aged 25 and over, while 20% were aged under 19 and 30% between 19 and 24, according to figures from the House of Commons Library.
Weigh up the pros and cons
So, going back to my original hypothetical question, is it ok to positively age discriminate? I confess I’m somewhere in between.
At Talentview Construction, there is a variety of apprenticeship opportunities on our online platform and we would encourage anyone interested – regardless of age – to take a look.
Young and older apprentices both have merit. When it comes to employers selecting theirs, I think they should pause, consider and weigh up the pros and cons of both in equal measure.
Christian Warden is engagement director at Talentview Construction.