Apprenticeships for older workers: The issue of pay

As part of National Apprenticeship Week, Lucie Mitchell investigates some of the issues for older workers looking to retrain or take on an apprenticehip.

Older man being instructed while doing work on a monitor in an office


Although apprenticeships are often seen as an option for younger people and those in the early stages of their career, they are in fact available to everyone and can be an effective way for older workers to develop their skills or change career.

However, pay can be a significant issue for older workers undertaking an apprenticeship because they are likely to have to take a hit on their earning level, which can be a challenge if they have financial responsibilities.

“If you look at the evidence around the benefits to individuals after undertaking an apprenticeship, there is clear data to suggest the wage returns are considerably lower for people who are older,” remarks Lizzie Crowley, policy adviser for skills at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development [CIPD]. “So there are considerations to be made for older apprentices as they are not necessarily going to get the same benefits in terms of wage uplift.”

The issue of pay does depend, however, on what apprenticeship an older worker is choosing to do. If they are an existing employee who would like to stay within the business, but upskill and move internally, it is likely that their salary level will stay the same as it was before they took on the apprenticeship. It does become a little trickier, though, if an older employee decides to change their employer or career.

“If someone is looking to leave their current employer or sector, it can be a bit of a minefield to find an apprenticeship that pays a higher salary,” comments Adam Rooke, director at Professional Apprenticeships. “It isn’t impossible though, if they spend a little time researching, but there will be a lot of competition for a higher-paid apprenticeship.”

The challenge, says Crowley, is that many of the advertised apprenticeships for people coming into organisations are concentrated at that early career level – and then pay does become an issue. “For older workers going down that route, and completely changing their career path, the data would suggest that probably isn’t going to have the best returns if they are thinking just about wages rather than satisfaction in a new job.”

Higher rates

Although low pay can often prevent older workers from accessing apprenticeships, it is possible to find apprenticeships offering higher rates.

“The current National Minimum Wage rate for an apprentice is set at £4.30 per hour. However, many apprenticeships are advertised with a higher hourly rate or salary than this,” remarks Jane Hickie, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP). “Furthermore, older apprentices who have completed their first year of training are entitled to the full National Living Wage rate – which rises to £9.50 per hour in April 2022.”

A recent survey on apprenticeships by the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) found that pay is more important for older apprentices than their younger counterparts, with those aged over 45 stating that the biggest appeal about taking an apprenticeship is the opportunity to earn whilst you learn.

“One of the huge benefits of an apprenticeship is that not only will older workers be able to access the training needed to develop their career, with the opportunity to gain professional qualifications, but they will also do so whilst being employed within a relevant role,” says Anthony Clarke, business development manager at the AAT. “This means that individuals will benefit from working alongside other professionals and can therefore develop their skills on the job.”

Alternative options

However, if pay is deterring some older workers from undertaking apprenticeships, there are alternative training options out there that may be more suitable.

“The Government has introduced skills bootcamps, which are short, sector-focused training for individuals who are already job ready and are very much designed specifically to meet the needs of employers within those sectors,” comments Crowley. “This type of training could benefit older workers wanting to make that move.”

Rooke adds: “There are many accessible, online courses to help develop older workers’ skills; or a part-time course with a local college might be an option as they don’t have the 20% off-the-job training requirement of an apprenticeship.”

The Apprenticeship Levy was introduced by the Government in 2017 to help fund apprenticeship training, yet many believe it isn’t working and are calling for it to be reformed. The CIPD has in fact stated that the levy has “failed on every measure” and is urging the Government to reform it to a broader, more flexible training levy.

The CIPD’s chief executive Peter Cheese said at the time: “A more flexible skills levy would mean employers could use it to develop existing staff through other forms of accredited training and skills development, which are cheaper and usually much more suitable for employees aged 25 and over.”

Crowley adds that a training levy would benefit older employees because it would provide funding to be able to choose the training that is more suitable to the individual and the organisation: “An accredited training course module wouldn’t lock older workers into a two- or three-year programme with one day off the job, which is difficult for the employer and not necessarily the most effective training mechanism for an already skilled and very experienced worker.”

* is advertising apprenticeships for parents and older workers looking to change or restart their careers, including this one from Starbucks and this one and this one from Pizza Hut.

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