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Apprenticeships for older people

UK apprenticeship contract of employment, salaries, training, funding, qualifications, transferable skills and the National Apprenticeship Service

Colleges and training providers often advertise their apprenticeships only for people of certain age groups, because younger people attract more government funding for their training (and government funding for apprenticeships is exempt from age discrimination legislation). Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done about this and if you fall outside the advertised age group you will not be able to apply for a funded place on these apprenticeship programmes.

However, since the introduction of age discrimination legislation in 2006, employers are no longer able to specify specific age groups when recruiting unless they can demonstrate legitimate reasons to discriminate on the grounds of age. Employers must also take care to ensure that the recruitment process for attracting and recruiting apprentices does not discriminate against older workers.

According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission employers must be able to demonstrate that discrimination is 'proportionate' and contributes to a 'legitimate' aim. Proportionate means that:

Legitimate means:

If you feel that an employer does not have objective justification for discrimination it is possible to take legal action and the onus is on the employer to demonstrate that restricting the age range of applicants was justified. For example, local authorities could argue that they are taking on younger apprentices because they are trying to address the high levels of youth unemployment in their area. It would be up to the courts to weigh up the evidence and decide whether or not this is a legitimate aim and whether the local authority could adopt a different strategy to achieve this aim. More information about these rules can be obtained from the Equality and Human Rights Commission website: www.equalityhumanrights.com.

Employers have found a way to overcome age discrimination rules. In some cases they advertise an apprenticeship to all age groups, but when an older candidate steps forward they point out that there is no government funding available for the apprenticeship and that the candidate will need to pay for their own training or, in some cases, work for free. This can put off a lot of applicants because they cannot afford to pay for their training or work without receiving a wage.

However, since the employer has offered the position to all age groups it is not seen as age discrimination by either the government or the employer. Although this situation is very unsatisfactory for people over the age of 18 some apprenticeship providers hope that these problems will be overcome with extra funding for adult apprenticeships. (Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, announced his intention to expand the number of adult apprenticeships available by 75,000 in 2014-15, meaning that there will be a total of 200,000 adults starting their apprenticeship in this year. The government will be investing £605 million in adult apprenticeships in 2011-12.)

Despite these funding issues and complex age discrimination rules, many older people do succeed in obtaining an apprenticeship. For example, the Age and Employment Network (TAEN) reports that provisional figures for the period from August to October 2010, reveal that just over 8,500 (7.1 per cent) of almost 120,000 people starting apprenticeships during those three months were aged 45 and over. This compares with a total of 10,210 people aged 45+ (3.65 per cent of the total) who started apprenticeships during the full 2009/10 academic year. Also, according to figures obtained by Age UK and TAEN from the Skills Funding Agency, the number of 50+ apprentices leapt from 2,605 in 2007/08 to 5,376 in 2008/09. This figure includes over 400 people in their 60s and 13 in their 70s, including the oldest apprentice in the country aged 76. For more information about TAEN and their research, visit taen.org.uk. For more information about Age UK, visit www.ageuk.org.uk. For more information about apprenticeships in general, visit www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

This article has been adapted from Chapter 13 of Apprenticeships: For students, parents and job seekers, by Catherine Dawson (ISBN: 978-0749463335). If you are interested in finding out more about apprenticeships, this book provides a comprehensive and independent guide. It covers issues such as apprenticeship contracts, finding an apprenticeship, working as an apprentice and progression routes on completion of the apprenticeship.

© Catherine Dawson 2012