Can you be too old for an apprenticeship?

Written on: 23 September 2020

Written by: Frances Hardcastle



One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding apprenticeships is that they are only available to school leavers. However, recent reforms to government funding have changed the face (and age) of apprenticeships.

Anyone aged 16 and over can be enrolled on an apprenticeship, including school leavers, career changers, and people looking to develop their skills as part of their current job.

Are apprenticeships right for older candidates?

From an employer’s point of view, school leavers and older apprentices can bring different advantages. Some employers may prefer someone with a bit more maturity and experience. On the other hand, employment costs are typically lower for apprentices aged 16-18, with more funding available.

Employers may also have specific reasons for investing in apprenticeships. A business may want to create career opportunities for school leavers. Or they may prefer to mentor young people, shaping them to suit their company culture.

There are several factors to consider when weighing up whether an apprenticeship is right for you as an older candidate, including wages, funding, and what you want to get out of your career.

Apprenticeship Wages for Career-Changers

The minimum wage for an apprentice is £4.30 per hour. This applies to apprentices of any age for the first year of your training. If you are aged 19+, this goes up to the minimum wage for your age group once you have completed the first year of your apprenticeship.

We do actively encourage our employers to pay more than the apprentice minimum, but this cannot be guaranteed. Lower wages can be off-putting for slightly older candidates with financial obligations. Although some apprentices may be eligible for Universal Credit income support, this is limited and would depend on your personal finances and living situation. You would need to carefully consider whether being paid below the National Minimum Wage while you train is an option for you.

Apprenticeship Funding

The good news for apprentices is that training costs are usually paid by the employer – so you won’t need to pay tuition fees. Large employers pre-pay the cost of apprenticeships through their Apprenticeship Levy contributions, while small or medium sized businesses can claim government funding to cover between 95% and 100% of training costs.

The funding available for employers depends on the size of the business and the age of the apprentice. There are currently a range of incentive payments available for employers to hire apprentices of all ages, with higher sums paid to those who take on younger candidates.

Funding rules: Apprentices aged 16-18

For 16-18 year olds, employers can claim up to £4000 in government incentives when they hire a new apprentice. For small businesses with less than 50 employees, the government will also cover up to 100% of training fees.

If you fall into this category, becoming an apprentice can be an ideal way to begin your career in your chosen field. Your age could work in your favour, especially if you’re considering working at a smaller business.

Funding rules: Apprentices aged 19+

Employers can currently claim an incentive payment of up to £3000 for taking on new apprentices aged over 19. For small and medium sized businesses (SMEs), who don’t pay into the Apprenticeship Levy, the government can also fund up to 95% of training costs.

While these employer incentives are currently only available until September 2021, they have made apprenticeships more accessible to a broader range of candidates, and demonstrate the importance of apprenticeships in the UK's economic recovery from Coronavirus. 

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Apprenticeships for Career Development

Age demographics of apprentices are changing. With the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, larger companies can now spend their ring-fenced funds on training existing staff. An increasing number of people are improving their skills through apprenticeships as part of their job.

Our Level 4 apprenticeships in Software Development, Marketing, Data Analysis, Network Engineer and Cyber Security are popular career development choices from people already working in the industry.

Alternatives to Apprenticeships

If you’re an older candidate looking to retrain or develop new skills, apprenticeships might not always be suitable for your personal circumstances. For some, the potential wage cut isn’t feasible. In other cases, you may be overqualified – for instance, if you have a degree, you wouldn’t be eligible for an apprenticeship in that same subject. Other training routes may be better suited to you, such as college, a conversion course, or professional certification.

What next?

If you have considered your options and think an apprenticeship is the right move for your career, it’s time to start exploring courses and looking for opportunities. As long as you are 16 or over, you can search and apply for our current vacancies here.

If you decide that apprenticeships are not for you, you can find further careers advice from the National Careers Service.

Note: This blog was originally published in February 2015. It has been expanded and updated to reflect changes to apprenticeship funding and available opportunities.

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Interested in starting an apprenticeship programme with us? Find out more about the type of courses we offer!