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Pandemic drives increase in later-in-life apprenticeships

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To celebrate National Apprenticeship Week, new analysis of apprenticeship data by British Gas reveals half (50%) of apprenticeship starters in the UK last year were aged 25 and over.

This trend is further supported by new British Gas apprenticeship data which shows the average age of their new Smart apprentices is 29 years old.

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Last year, despite the pandemic’s impact on the economy, there were 321,400 apprentice starts, a fall of only 0.3% compared to the previous year. Greater employment uncertainty during the pandemic (49%) and learning a new skill (46%) were cited as the top considerations to undertake an apprenticeship.

The research also reveals that almost one in four (23%) are concerned about the effects of the pandemic on their future career prospects with almost one in five (18%) having had to re-evaluate their career path – rising to 23% for those aged 25-44.

While over 25s account for half (50%) of apprenticeship starters in 2020/21, 16 years old was selected as the best age the to undertake an apprenticeship (30%), with those aged 55-64 most likely to hold this view.

Percentage of Apprentice Starts by Age each Academic Year

AGE2018/192019/202020/21
Under 1925%24%20%
19-2429%29%30%
25+46%47%50%

Over a third (36%) of Brits believe an apprenticeship provides better career prospects than a university degree as it provides employment as well as training, with only 15% believing a university degree is the best option.

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However, almost two in five (37%) believe there is a lack of information in colleges and secondary schools to highlight apprenticeships as a viable career path and an alternative to university.

In fact, one in five (20%) stated their university degree provided little to no relevance to their current employment.

Nine in 10 (91%) respondents believe apprenticeships are effective at improving career prospects, but according to the figures some sectors have been more affected by the pandemic than others.

Leisure, Travel & Tourism and Retail & Commercial Enterprise have seen the biggest falls since 2018/19 (60% and 40% respectively), consistent with the industries which suffered throughout the pandemic.

Health, Public Services & Care, Business, Administration & Law were the best performing apprenticeships with 97,500 and 95,900 starts in 2020/21 respectively, both increasing year on year.

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Engineering and Manufacturing has continued to be the third most popular apprentice subject with 39,500 starts in 2020/21 which is little surprise as three in five (61%) believe engineering apprenticeships will provide skills that continue to be relevant in the future.

With over 9,000 highly trained engineers and technicians, British Gas are constantly scouting for new talent including apprentices, no matter what their age, gender and background. In order to provide a secure career path and create the green skills to deliver net zero, British Gas is recruiting 3,500 engineers by 2030, that’s one every day for the rest of the decade.

They are also putting steps in place to improve diversity and inclusion, pledging to attract and employ more female apprentices than any time in their 200-year history.

Claire Louise Beard, British Gas Apprentice, 42, worked for 18 years in consumer facing retail role before relocating and looking for a later in life career change.

She said, “When I relocated last year, I knew I wanted a different career. With my transferrable skills, I wanted to work in a customer focused environment. So when I saw the apprenticeship vacancies at British Gas, I was drawn to learning something new in a completely different sector, which would give me that customer interaction as well.

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“While a career change can be nerve-racking I would wholeheartedly, unreservedly, without a shadow of a doubt advise people to take the leap of faith into a new career and don’t let anything hold you back!”

Racheal Olorode, British Gas Apprentice, 21, was one of many people who lost or had to leave their job during the pandemic. Previously working in retail, she felt the industry, her career and job security were all too uncertain, which led her to leave her job and try a new challenge as a British Gas Apprentice.

She said, “When I was younger, I wanted to be a lawyer because of the things I used to watch on television. I never thought to myself I could be an engineer because I never saw a female engineer growing up.

“When I lost my job in retail due to the pandemic, I needed to find a job that was always going to be in demand and luckily British Gas were hiring. I love that I am the role model that I never saw represented before and hope my story will inspire other women to apply for engineering roles. “

Karen Hutcheson, Director of Resourcing Delivery at British Gas says: “We are committed to developing the next generation of our workforce by recruiting 3,500 apprentices before the end of the decade. Our apprenticeship scheme is one of our primary modes of recruitment as we strive to support people looking to gain new skills, whether they are aged 16 or an experienced professional seeking a change of direction later in life. It’s essential we that we have a truly diverse workforce.

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“At British Gas, we want to ensure we have a skilled workforce that can help our customers transition to new low carbon technology. The apprentices and engineers we are recruiting will be playing a huge role in supporting the ambitious targets of the Government to make net zero a reality. Together, we can create a more inclusive and sustainable future that supports our communities, our planet and each other.”

(Lead image: British Gas)

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