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In a talent scarce market, could apprenticeships for adults with transferable skills be the answer?

Posted by: Lucy Donald
Early February 2015 saw the announcement by Barclays of the launch of a new apprenticeship scheme for over 50s, offering older workers the chance to start a new career in banking.

It is expected that these entry-level positions will be filled by individuals with some transferable skills such as former maths teachers and accountants, however they will be expected to work their way from the bottom up. As Head of Apprenticeships for Barclays stated in an interview with The Sunday Times, “There is no ceiling on how high anybody can go. It’s a commercial decision.

The announcement of the Barclays apprenticeship scheme supports new findings from Business in the Community, a business-led charity looking to secure collaboration between businesses and society. These findings clearly showed that people in the above 50 demographic have a higher chance of becoming permanently jobless compared to those in the younger age groups, and not due to their lack of skills.

Dr Ros Altmann CBE, the UK Government’s new Older Workers' Business Champion, has been quoted in the media, saying: “Businesses across the country are waking up to the potential of older workers – as the over 50s become the fast-growing section of society. But there is more to do to end the outdated and inaccurate perceptions that can hold them back.”

With working later in life becomes the norm, the majority of 50+ individuals are looking to retire later than ever. What this does mean is there is a huge level of experience which could be tapped into – transferring those numerous skills to a different sector could be a fundamental way of bridging the talent shortage clearly evident within some industry disciplines within Mining and even the Oil & Gas sector, for example.

Apprenticeships are inevitably thought of as training for young people, but this is a misconception as age does not matter at all – anyone can do an Apprenticeship, as long as you are eager, willing and driven and can take on board that you’ll be a trainee for a while. Australia has a well-defined apprenticeship scheme in place for older adults called Mature Age Apprenticeships, which is promoted as an effective way of learning new skills and gaining recognised qualifications whilst earning on the job itself.

Figures from the UK’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), which were quoted in The Guardian late in 2014, showed that more than 350,000 of the UK’s 851,000 apprentices were over 25, with more than 50,000 aged over 50. The number of UK apprentices has risen from 491,300 in 2009 to 851,500 in 2014 – an increase of 73% and the proportion of those over 25 has more than doubled – it was 19% of all apprentices in 2009/10, but stood at 42% when these figures were published.

So is it time for companies to take a leaf out of Barclay’s book and consider expanding their search to include talented individuals from other industries with transferable skills and offering them, if not full apprenticeships, then at the very least a structured training and on-boarding programme? 

Lucy Donald, a Director at WRS, a specialist in recruiting within the global Mining, Oil & Gas, Maritime and Energy sectors, says, “We know there are serious shortfalls in the number of suitably skilled individuals in certain disciplines within Mining, Oil & Gas and the Energy sectors, despite the challenges that these industries currently face. We actively encourage our customers to consider suitable candidates from other sectors, especially those who can offer a good range of transferable skills. However at the moment, this type of skills transfer and opportunities to retrain are in their infancy. This needs to be addressed and encouraged at every opportunity – the Barclays initiative is certainly one that could be considered for some skills sets within the industries in which we recruit.
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