Pursuing a mature age apprenticeship can be an incredibly fulfilling life accomplishment as you realise where your true potential lies by seeking a different career path. You get to see the bigger picture, while living a dream you always wanted for yourself.
Yet it can be a difficult path to tread as you struggle with night school, low income and almost always trying to prove that you are just as much an asset for your employers as the younger guys. Luckily, you will find people who value professionalism that comes only with maturity and experience.
Despite the physical demand this field puts on you and the hurdles that lie in getting the job, there are some who are willing to take the challenge head on, and their age is just not slowing them down. All I can say is, Hats off!
1. Jon Yates – Carpenter, 44
Jack of all trades, nailing every single one of them! Jon Yates, currently doing a Cert III in Carpentry at Ourimbah TAFE, belonged to the corporate world, not too long ago.
For 24 years Jon worked in the IT industry, before moving to e-learning, web development and corporate videography/photography and eventually finding his true passion in carpentry. “I have always been a keen DIY enthusiast working on our own homes and one investment property over the years. More recently my wife started an Interior design business “Serenity Home Designs and Renovations” where I worked under a carpenter on weekends for approximately a year.”
Jon wanted to study Building Design after leaving the corporate world in 2019 and join his wife in her business, but fate had something else planned for him. In December last year, Jon was made redundant at his corporate job and found himself struggling to find work. “I started looking for work as a handyman on online job sites and through word of mouth finally everything aligned and I was put in contact with Ben from Wyong Smith and Sons Renovations and Extensions who gave me a chance as a labourer,” Jon recalls.
The first 6 months were not easy, with lower pay and more physical work, still Jon felt healthier and happier in his life than ever before. Lucky to be working for a seasoned builder, Jon has learned a lot in just 6 months on his new job.
2. Penny McKenzie - Electrician, 48
Dual Field Service Supplier, Penny McKenzie’s first job is Instrumentation, starting her first apprenticeship back in 1985 at age 15.
Over the years, instrumentation evolved into a dual field and with Penny’s need to bring her A game to get the work, she decided to go for a second apprenticeship as an electrician only last year.
At the ripe age of 48, Penny is now working with ADX Electrical and Instrumentation, who accepted her as an apprentice. Something that still feels like a miracle! “The retirement age for me is 72, so 22 years of working life left. Being offered an electrical apprenticeship was an absolute blessing. Though my age was a consideration for my employer, it was not for me at all.
For Penny the biggest challenge was accepting the fact that she does need to learn something new, rather than believing that she knew everything already. Having faced some level of age discrimination at the vocational school, Penny decided to go to a self-paced class with a good teacher. Female service providers like Penny are not just breaking the gender stereotyping but also overcoming challenges that come with age.
“4 years was a big commitment for a 15 year old to take on, I have learnt at any age it is,” says Penny.
3. Craig Wood – Boilermaker, 43
Working as a mobile plant operator until age 38, Craig used to spend time in the workshop helping the mates fix the machines until one day someone asked him if he wanted to weld and the bug got him. Since then, Craig has not looked back.
“Everyone told me to get a qualification, be recognised for my skill and apply yourself,” Craig recalls. For Craig, age did act as a barrier, not to limit his physical abilities but as one of the biggest challenges when it came to prove his metal against the younger guys.
“Being an older guy keeping up with the young guns was challenging. Job prospects were hard. Young guys were easily taking on new jobs where I was sitting on the wayside.
He’s too old, take the younger guys, they would say,” Craig recounts. Yet the boilermaker was able to earn respect for sticking out the profession so much so that he is now able to teach the younger ones coming in.
“Doing the hard yards was totally worth it,” says Craig.
4. Adam Bowman – Plumber, 43
Always wanting to become a plumber, but never having the opportunity, Adam worked at Kellogg’s production night shift, when he came across a good job his partner had at Chiswick Plumbing, it was the perfect timing and it all fell into place.
“I started my apprenticeship at age 38 with Chiswick plumbing in Sydney after doing my pre-apprenticeship course at St. Randwick Tafe.
Later I did work experience with a local plumber who didn’t need anyone but rang a few and finally was offered a job at Chiswick plumbing as a maintenance plumber. They allowed me to do my Cert 4 in plumbing in my final year of the apprenticeship, last year,” tells Adam. Adam was 42 when he completed his apprenticeship and had to wait another one and a half year before applying for his licence. Like Craig, Adam also had some challenges adjusting to the lower wage rate after being paid well for so many years.
“Going back to minimum wage was hard but luckily my partner had a good job.”
But Adam believes that no matter how old you are you never stop learning new things and ways of doing things. With plumbing forever coming out with new products, there is always something for you to master your skills in and prove your worth.
Wrapping it Up
The Field Service industry in Australia is going through one of the worst skills shortages amid the construction boom and hence presents some lucrative opportunities for those who dare to take the plunge.
It’s time that the government should be stepping in to subsidize the pay rates for mature age apprentices to support their career change while encouraging employers to hire them.
Irrespective of the industry or the career stage you are in, if it’s not fulfilling, you should be asking yourself if that’s what you want from your life. Talk to mates, get to know the industry better and see if it’s the right fit for you. Ask yourself if you are willing to put yourself through the lengthy training process and your family is willing to support you through the low wage period.
And if the answer is a yes, don’t waste any more time. Your life experience and maturity can prove to be an asset not just for the employer, but for the entire nation!