‘It was not until I was 55 that I found my dream career’

Feb 09, 2021

Bob Bryce: At 76, probably the oldest apprentice in the UK.

MEET Bob Bryce, quite possibly the oldest apprentice in the country.

At 76 years old, most people would have retirement firmly in their sights. But Bob not only is still working but also is learning new skills.

He is currently completing a Level 3 Supervisor Apprenticeship with Govia Thameslink, working as a passenger host and team leader at Luton station. 

“I joined the railway in 1999 and my biggest regret is that I did not do it sooner,” he says. “It is the best job I have ever had, which is why I want to keep working as long as possible.

“I was hesitant to do the apprenticeship at first because of my age – I left school over 60 years ago without any qualifications. It has been hard at times to get back into the routine of learning again.”

In order to do the apprenticeship, Bob needed the equivalent of GCSE (grade A-C) passes in English and maths. “They did not exist when I was at school. I got the qualifications in 2019 and straight after that started my apprenticeship. When I complete my course, I will have a Level 3 apprenticeship, which is the same as an A Level.”

Bob’s story shows that no one is ever too old to make a career switch or continue upskilling. As National Apprenticeship Week continues, GTR is telling the stories of its apprentices.

More than 69% of its apprentices are aged over 30, bucking the idea that apprenticeships are only available to younger people. Those aged over 40 make up 30% of GTR’s apprenticeship workforce.

As a way of recognising the importance of apprenticeships, GTR has worked on developing its own in-house programme that aims to bridge the looming skills gap in the rail industry and give GTR a competitive advantage.

The range of roles available offer an alternative view of what a career in rail entails while promoting the diversity embedded at the core of the organisation. As a result, GTR is fast becoming an employer of choice not only for the younger generation crowd but also for older adults who are entering the rail industry via apprentice schemes, often as a way of retraining.

Bob Bryce

“I was really enjoying the physical lessons where you learn as part of the group but because of the pandemic everything had to switch to becoming virtual, which was another challenge I had to overcome,” says Bob.

“Although Covid-19 has delayed things, I am on the home straight now with just one exam left to go. I think I must be the oldest apprentice in the UK.

“If I had my time again, I would have got a job in the railway as soon as I could. It was not until I was 55 that I found my dream career.”

Bob has also worked in jobs with the county council and a local printing company. “I have also experienced dips of unemployment throughout my career but it just goes to show you should never give up.”

GTR aims to increase the number of its apprentices even during the challenging landscape caused by the pandemic. The rail company has set its sights on recruiting 200 new apprentices in 2021, followed by a 25% increase in 2022, to a total of 250.

It is also targeting a 50-50 gender split on all new driver apprenticeships.

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“As an employer, our single greatest asset is our workforce, and the apprenticeship programmes have been a key driver in helping us recruit the most diverse, dynamic and skilled group of employees,” says Zoey Hudson, GTR’s head of talent, diversity and inclusion.

“We are very proud to see that so many different ages groups represented in our apprentice workforce.

“At GTR, we have set out to challenge the stereotypes associated with careers in rail, and our applicant numbers – as well as their demographic split – clearly show that more and more people are recognising it as an attractive and lifelong option.”

GTR operator has launched a live vacancies portal for the apprentice roles available in 2021. For more information visit https://gtrailwaycareers.com/jobs/vacancy/625/MediaPR/detail

“It is a job for life and I am grateful for the opportunity to learn new things at my age,” says Bob.

“I do not want to retire any time soon. I want to keep my brain active and working and I would encourage anyone in later life to consider an apprenticeship because you are never too old to learn something new.”

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