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Ageless apprenticeships on the rise at Whitbread

They say you’re never too old to learn something new and that’s certainly true for a breed of older learners who are using ageless apprenticeships – dubbed pension-ships – and commencing a new career in their fifties and beyond.

Whitbread, the UK’s largest hospitality company and owner of both Premier Inn and Costa, has seen this trend first hand as it offers ageless apprenticeships as part of its’ wide-ranging WISE (Whitbread Investing in Skills and Employment) scheme.

In fact, just 10% of Whitbread’s apprentices currently in learning are under the age of twenty – challenging the notion apprenticeships are most commonly done by people at school.

News has been welcomed by Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee. He said, 'I've met Whitbread Apprentices in Premier Inns all over the country and they are second to none. It is fantastic to see a company doing so much to give young – and older – people alike a chance to climb the educational ladder of opportunity to get jobs, security and prosperity for their futures.

He added, “It’s fantastic to see a great British business like Whitbread invest so heavily in its apprenticeship scheme, and its focus on lifelong learning and skills is particularly pleasing. I encourage other businesses to follow Whitbread’s lead.”

The latest government figures on apprenticeships also support this trend of supposed retirees speeding up rather than slowing down: 13% of new apprentices in England are over 45. Additionally, 4,000 over 60’s started an apprenticeship in the same period.

This is reflected in the growth of the number of over 25’s undertaking apprenticeships. In 2009/10; the majority of apprentices were school-leavers and their older counterparts represented just 18 per cent of apprentices. In 2016/17, over-25’s represented 46 per cent – a staggering increase.

For older apprentices, the reasons for taking part are varied. Many are choosing to opt for an apprenticeship so they can start an alternative career instead of considering their retirement options or they’re taking advantage of an empty nest and setting themselves a new challenge. For some it’s a chance to drive their careers forward or learn a new skill, for others it’s the chance to prove they can get the qualifications which they may have missed out on at school.

The right support is key. Margie Lloyd, 53, who worked at the Malvern Premier Inn believed her classroom days were behind her. It took a supportive manager to put her forward and encourage her to become an apprentice. Now she has completed a Level 3 apprenticeship where she learnt to run a hotel herself – and gained qualifications equivalent to A Level.

Lloyd commented, “It can be scary to go back into a classroom after such a long time away from it, but my manager at Premier Inn encouraged me to try doing an apprenticeship. Then once I started, the continued support of my tutor took any fears away and helped me get the qualifications I need to manage a site. This has given me a massive confidence boost and I’m so glad I was given this opportunity.”

For companies, however the reasons to take on apprentices are clear. Apprenticeships are proven to boost employee retention – which is a major issue for hospitality companies such as Whitbread. However, team members who complete apprenticeships are nearly three times as likely to stay at the company for more than 12 months. In England and Wales in 2016, 65% of employers reported that all their recent apprentices remained working for them.

Sandra Kelly, Head of Education at Whitbread, said, 'Like most companies, team members are our biggest asset – their hard work and dedication is what makes Whitbread a success, so it’s key we invest in them.

' We also passionately believe there should be no barriers to entry or ambition – and that includes age – which is why all our apprenticeships are ageless. We like to call them ‘pension-ships’, of course, they are nothing to do with being of pensionable age but it’s a memorable and fun way to illustrate that age is no barrier to learning.

“We’ve seen first-hand the positive impact that older apprentices can make as they’re able to bring their broader life experience to the table.”

There are other benefits too: government research shows employers who have an established apprenticeship programme reported that productivity in their workplace had improved by 76% whilst 75% reported apprenticeships improved the quality of their product or service.3

Indeed, ‘pension-ships’ are part of larger trend of employers using innovative ways to attract and retain staff. In recent years, ‘returnships’ have helped career women return to work following time out from having children. At Whitbread, employee placements aimed at getting unemployed individuals – often with challenging backgrounds – into work has proved successful. Indeed, a third of people who undertake such a placement secure a permanent job.