As someone who has campaigned for apprenticeships for my whole working life, I can’t get over our minister of state for apprenticeships and skills, Anne Milton, telling the House of Commons that they should be available to everybody “whatever their background and age”.
It has always been my view that apprenticeships are there to give our youngsters greater opportunities in life, but encouraging over-60s to take on apprenticeships is quite clearly robbing kids of their future.
I’m all for the older worker and I love having a mix of ages in the workplace. We can always learn from experience, but ultimately you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Encouraging over-60s to start the same course as teenagers is a step backwards. It is both impractical and insulting. If we start handing these precious opportunities out to over-60s, the meaning of "apprenticeship" will change entirely. Practically speaking, in my industry how are these senior trade apprentices going to learn all the tricks of the trade when they aren’t able to lug around heavy materials or stand all day on a site?
Those of us who have completed an apprenticeship with a lot of hard graft will know that they’re nothing like we see on TV. We’ve got to stop confusing the term "apprenticeship". It’s yet another case of common sense being thrown out of the window.
I can honestly say that I will never take on an apprentice who isn’t young, ripe and ready. We need to save these opportunities for the kids of tomorrow, not waste them on the fogies.
I’ve said from day one that apprenticeships are the way we can reduce crime levels and help to solve the skills gap. Apprenticeships are for youngsters and as soon as we start giving them to older people, they won’t want to do it. Fact. It is our duty to preserve apprenticeships as being a trendy route through life.
‘Don’t waste apprenticeships on the fogies’
We have around 300 apprenticeship applications every month at Pimlico Plumbers, and we’ve got many who make a massive difference to the business. We’ve come a long way since apprenticeships were a second-rate option, and with university applications down this year I was starting to think we were making real progress. We can’t let this set us back and put youngsters off.
Don’t get me wrong, I started my career as an apprentice, and I owe my success to the fact that I was able to learn a trade in this way. I am a big believer in retraining and supporting older workers, but we’ve got to call it a "senior training scheme", not an apprenticeship.
I’m not saying that older workers are past their sell-by date – far from it. They can bring real credibility to a business and are respected by both colleagues and customers, due to their experience. We’ve had many brilliant older workers in separate roles at Pimlico Plumbers over the years, including van washer Buster Martin, and my current PA Mario, who’s in his seventies. It should be a standard thing in businesses to have young, enthusiastic apprentices who are learning both traditional and new ways of working and older, equally enthusiastic workers who are happy to share their experience and have their ears bent by younger colleagues.
I’m a proud supporter of protecting apprenticeships and getting youngsters motivated to learn and work. In fact, I believe the term "apprentice" is so vitally important to young people today that it should be trademarked, and only used in the proper way. We can’t let it be thrown around and run the risk of putting youngsters off what is a genuine, financially rewarding career option.
I’ve reached out to Anne Milton for a meeting and I’m pleased to say we’ll be looking to get a date in the diary soon. She’s got a lot on her plate, with being committed to reaching 3 million new apprenticeship starts in England by 2020 – but these need to be, what I call, "true apprentices" taking on these apprenticeships. Anne does some great work with encouraging women on the tools too, but I really think I can offer her some insight on apprenticeships, seeing as it is at the core of my business.
Yes, let’s champion retraining older workers and train them on senior training schemes, but we can’t run the risk of putting teenagers off apprenticeships because we’ve let the over-60s join their course.
Charlie Mullins is managing director and founder of Pimlico Plumbers