Apprenticeships aren’t just for school leavers: why I changed career late in life

Who do you picture when you think of an apprentice? Perhaps a 16-year-old who wants a fast track to the working world and can’t wait to be earning a wage. But apprenticeships aren’t just a valuable route for school leavers, they can also be the catalyst for a career change and pursuing missed opportunities.

The money invested in apprenticeships for over-19s has grown steadily since 2009-10. In the year 2013-14, £770m was spent on older apprentices in sectors ranging from publishing to construction. To find out why people train later on in life, we spoke to four apprentices – and former apprentices – about why they took the risk and what the results have been.

Kevin Eggleton, 45, left his office job in 2013 to start an advanced apprenticeship in racehorse care and management

In 2013, I was 43 and had been working nights for 20 years at a dairy company in Somerset. I wasn’t enjoying it, and I was getting so tired. One day, I said to my wife: “I need to see if I can do something I enjoy for the rest of my career”.

I’ve had a passion for horses since I was young so I decided to write a letter asking for work helping in stables. I sent it out to lots of trainers. I heard back from my current manager, we set up an interview and I was successful.

I met my NVQ assessor through working there, she came in to ride the horses on weekends. She asked if I’d thought about getting a qualification. At first I thought, ‘Why would I want to do it at my age?’ But I took the chance, and I’m so glad I did – what I learned over the 18 months of my apprenticeship was unbelievable. It involved learning about the horse digestive system, muscle structure and how they should be fed for optimum health.

Starting the apprenticeship meant sacrifices. I took a £15,000 annual pay cut and had to move my family from Somerset to Wiltshire, where the stables are. It was a major upheaval, but we don’t regret it.

I’m in charge of feeding all the horses and driving the main box to races now. When a horse I look after wins a race, the emotion is unbelievable – it’s like my hard work is paying off. My wife says she’s seen such a difference in me. I come home happy and jolly now.

Jack Cave, 19, gave up his place in a professional rugby team to pursue an apprenticeship in civil engineering

At 17, I won a professional contract with the under-20s Sheffield Eagles rugby team. At that age, the idea of getting paid to do what I loved – even if it was a small training fee – seemed great. But the reality of making it full-time for the first team were slim.

After a couple of years of training, I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my life and how I was going to get there. Even if I was successful in making it full-time in professional rugby, it could only last until I was in my 30s then I’d have to go out and find another job.

I added it all up and thought what about I wanted to do. While I was at school, my teachers had suggested I look into apprenticeship qualifications. I’d always had an interest in building things, so I kept an eye out for opportunities in the construction sector on the national apprenticeship website. My mum and I talked it over for ages. In the end, I decided an apprenticeship would widen my opportunities.

I started at Carillion in 2014. I worked on site four days a week and studied at college the other day. I liked being hands-on so quickly and I have a lot of support; I got paired up with one of the engineers who became my mentor.

The work can be long hours. Recently I’ve been helping to build a new road to relieve traffic congestion and that sometimes meant working until 10pm. If you start pouring concrete, you can’t just stop partway through.

The thing I enjoy most is helping to build something from the start and seeing the end result – that’s really satisfying. I’m working towards my level three NVQ now, which could eventually lead to an HND that could be converted into a degree. I’m really happy about my choice [to take on the apprenticeship]. I know where I’m going and how I want to progress.

David Kneath, 32, completed a year-long apprenticeship in creative and digital media at Bafta-winning special effects company, Real SFX

Before my apprenticeship, I’d been working as a model maker for my friend’s advertising agency for 10 years. But when the economic crisis hit, work dropped off as people didn’t want to spend as much on advertising. I needed to look for something new.

I never knew what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to keep my mind active. I’d always had an interest in the creative industries, so I was really excited by the chance of an apprenticeship at Real SFX.

I left school at 16 and part of the apprenticeship was a year’s NVQ course, so I’d spend six weeks with Real SFX then go back to college for a few months. I was daunted by being back in a learning environment aged 30. All my younger course mates at college were up to date with computing and I wasn’t. I was behind from the start, but I still did well and I’m really proud of that.

I took a big financial hit for a year, too. I earned £34 a day as an apprentice, and when I was working at Real SFX I spent £20 on petrol each day driving from my home in Swansea to the offices in Cardiff.

But it’s been worth it – I’ve been involved in lots of exciting projects. I’ve worked on TV programmes including Sherlock, Casualty, Dr Who and Hollyoaks, helping to create explosion scenes through atmospheric smoke and fires.

I’d definitely recommend an apprenticeship to others trying to find work in this industry. Television sets can be an alien place to work and you can’t really understand them until you’ve been on one. There’s a different language. As an apprentice you can pick that up before you get there.

This article is funded by KPMG. All content is editorially independent except for pieces labelled “brought to you by”. Find out more here.

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