Doing an apprenticeship over 50

Helen Gowing is over 50 and has just completed an apprenticeship in data analytics while working for insurance company Aviva.

Financial district of London


Many people think they are too old too retrain when they pass their 50s.

Helen Gowing, AvivaHelen Gowing admits she was terrified of going back to studying, but she did it anyway and the result has not only been a new role, but a renewed motivation and a real sense of achievement.

She had been working at insurance company Aviva for over 30 years, starting as a frontline pensions adviser and working up to leading a whole department in customer operations. “I had been doing people leadership and operations for some time. I started thinking that is all I can do,” she says.

Helen was working on embedding customer measures across departments. The job involved getting people to extract data. It made her realise the importance of analysing data correctly and using it to make evidence-based decisions. Aviva was offering apprenticeships in data analytics.

Initially Helen thought she would never be able to return to learning. “I was so scared. My instinct was so strongly telling me not to do it. I hadn’t done any learning for a long while,” she says, but then she thought about the advice she gave her seven year old daughter about doing things you think you can’t and she realised she needed to live her own advice.

“I thought what is the worst that can happen,” she said. Even after her initial interview for the apprenticeship programme was successful, she felt she was going to be told she couldn’t do it at each stage in the process.

Learning new things

Aviva’s apprenticeships are open to anyone in the company and age is no barrier. Although most people on the programme were young, Helen says there were some other more mature students. The results were a new sense of confidence. “I really enjoyed learning something new and was amazed at what I could do. I had never done coding before so when I wrote my first line of code I had quite a sense of achievement and excitement,” she says.

Helen, who works full time, but flexibly, says her line managers were very supportive and she was able to use 20% of her work time on the apprenticeship. She also had to study for various exams in the evenings and at weekends and says she feels it was good for her daughter to see that adults do exams and can learn new things. Her analytics skills are also likely to come in handy for helping her daughter with her homework.

The apprenticeship lasted 18 months. Helen completed the last element last month. She hopes to stay in touch with her cohort in the future and says meeting people from all over Aviva has given her a new insight into the organisation.

She is very pleased she decided to do the apprenticeship: “It was amazing to step outside my comfort zone and realise I could do more than what I had been doing up til then.”

Moreover, in November she took up a new role as Business Intelligence Lead [Operational Resilience]. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the programme,” she says. “It has given me a growth mindset.”

She adds: “Aviva has no retirement age. You can work as long as you want to. You are never made to feel too old for any opportunity.”

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