Is this Britain's oldest apprentice?

65 Sturry Rd, Canterbury CT1 1BU. Co Op Funeral Care Apprentice : Robert, Canterbury.

Robert Brown, a 67-year-old former police office from Canterbury, may be the oldest apprentice in the UK, after taking on a second career in the funeral business. He could be leading a trend for older apprentices, as a government adviser has called for one million more people aged 50-70 in the workplace by 2022.

Robert was a Detective Sergeant, until his retirement in 2009. Given the nature of police work, officers have a younger retirement date, so he always planned to find related work in retirement. He initially did so, on a self-employed basis, but found working for himself to be too rude a culture change. He says: "After 40 years working in a full time job, I hated things like chasing the money, so I wanted employment again."

See also: Lab turns human ashes into sparkling diamonds

See also: You might want to sit down: funeral debts hit astonishing highs

See also: Could you be buried by mistake?


He saw an advert for the Co-op Funeralcare, and joined up, at first on a zero hours contract. It was a natural fit for him, so he was moved onto part time contract, and signed up to an NVQ. That's when he became what may be the country's oldest apprentice, at the age of 67.

He finished the course last November, and is now working full time - having qualified as a funeral care operative - with roles ranging from making coffins up to driving the hearse - and as a funeral arranger.

He initially only intended to work part time, but when his partner reduced her hours, he decided to step up to full time "to make up the gap financially." He expects to continue working until his wife is ready to retire.


It was easy for him to move into a full time role, not just because business is booming, but also because he is perfectly suited to the job. He explains: "It allows me to use the people skills I learned as a police officer. You see people at their lowest ebb, and they need someone to be sympathetic and understanding, but also to have the authority so they know they can rely on you. As a Detective Sergeant investigating serious crimes, that's something I am very used to, and I enjoy doing it. Someone may come into a branch in tears, and after an hour and a half they leave confident you will take care of their loved one, and that gives me a lot of satisfaction."

"When people ask me what I'm doing now and I tell them, they ask how I can do it, but it's no different to being a police officer. You are still dealing with the aftermath of a death, you are just helping people through the next stage, making sure you treat them with dignity and respect."

Army of older workers

Given the life experience and skills that older people can bring to the role it's perfectly understandable why so many people working for Co-op Funeralcare are older. In fact, one in three of its apprentices are over the age of 50, and many of them are former police officers.

This will be music to the ears of Andy Briggs, the chief executive of Aviva Life UK, who is the Government's Business Champion for Older Workers. This week he called for every employer to increase the number of people aged 50-70 that they employ by 12% by 2022.

The Co-op points out that working in later life is very common within its business, and it expects later life career changes to become even more popular too. It recently did some research and found that 55% of people over the age of 50 have had at least three careers, and 16% have switched careers after turning 45.

When asked what prompted the change, 22% said they needed to find work after being made redundant, 15% were bored and ready for a change, 15% wanted to do something that would interest them personally, and 9% wanted to earn more.

But what you think? Would you want to work later in life, and would the funerals business work for you? Let us know in the comments.

The UK's 10 best-paid jobs
See Gallery
The UK's 10 best-paid jobs

Flying high literally as well as metaphorically, pilots top the salary scale this year. There are various routes into the job, from university courses to airlines' own training schemes; private training will set you back as much as £50,000 to £60,000.

"I most enjoy the variety of the job, working as a team, to a schedule, with the responsibility of safely transporting hundreds of people to their destination. I would advise aspiring pilots to thoroughly research training routes, understand the serious financial outlay required with no guarantee of a job after training and to consider other routes such as flight instruction."

Not all CEOs are making millions - but they're doing pretty nicely on average. There's no clear route into the job; an MBA can help, but many bosses have worked their way up from the bottom and many simply started their own firm.

"There is an old saying, it's very lonely at the top, which is usually the case for a CEO. You're the leader and you're responsible for everything, meaning you take the credit for the successes and feel the most pain for the companies' failures."

Most air traffic controllers train through National Air Traffic Services (NATS), which has programmes for college leavers who have studied at BTEC ND/HNC/HND level, university students on a sandwich year and graduates. NATS says the most important attribute for acceptance on a course is natural aptitude.

"Much of the time, the job is routine and capable of being done by many people. What you are paid for, however, is your ability to make the right choices and decisions under extreme pressure."

The high pay reflects both the heavy workload and the length of training required - a five-year degree course in medicine, a two-year foundation programme of general training and then another three years specialist training.

"You will get paid well and (despite recent changes!) you will get a very good pension. You will, however, work hard for your money with less recognition than previous years."

This is a job where most people work their way up, although qualifications like the Chartered Institute of Marketing's Professional Diploma in Marketing or the Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing's Diploma in Direct and Interactive Marketing can help. You'll probably need three or four years' experience before you can move into management.

"It's great working in such a varied job - there's something new every day. I enjoy the travel, too. But it's fast-paced, very hard work, and there's a lot of technical data analysis work involved."

It's not surprising that IT and telecoms directors earn good money. The job requires both business and technical skills, and the stakes are high: smoothly-running IT systems are crucial for most businesses and the cost of getting things wrong is high.

"It's a high-pressure job, and the hours can be unbelievably long, but it's extremely rewarding when a project goes well. The biggest problems are staying on top of changes in technology and being clear about what's actually achievable within a budget."

Financial managers and directors need to be qualified accountants and, particularly in larger organisations, have strong general business skills. And the job carries huge levels of responsibility, from keeping the company in good health financially to making sure it complies with the law.

"What I enjoy about the job is the way it's central to the business, the way I'm involved in creating long-term business plans. Compliance [with regulations] can be a bit of a pain; it takes a lot of hard work."

Until recently, the only way to become a senior officer was to work your way up through the ranks. Each police force sets its own recruitment process and selection policy, though there's a basic national framework for evaluating competency. This year, though, the College of Policing has started appointing superintendents from outside the force - so you might be in with a chance.

"I love the opportunity to take on a vast array of roles which would never be possible in a civilian organisation and to progress through a clearly defined promotion structure, should I prove to be good enough. The training I have received has been quite brilliant, enhancing my life skills as well as my ability to do my job well."

If your vision of a bank manager is of a middle-aged man in a panelled office dictating stern letters to his secretary, think again. It's now about managing a team and, especially, attracting new customers and monitoring branch performance. There are two ways to get to be one: either through a bank's graduate scheme, or by starting off in a customer service role and working your way up.

"For me, what's great about working in a branch is that anyone could be a branch manager, you don't have to have a certain skill set. Having a background in customer service, whether it's in a bank or with another retailer, certainly helps. Some other skills that would help are organisation, patience, tolerance and empathy. After 27 years I can genuinely say that that not only do I love coming to work every day, I have also made lifelong friends here. For me, it's not just a nine-to-five job."

Once you're qualified as a teacher, it's a question of working your way up by gaining extra responsibilities - by becoming a head of department, a head of year, or a specialist in something like special educational needs. At head teacher level, the job is far less about teaching itself, and far more about managing staff and budgets and creating a productive, disciplined learning environment.

"It's a common complaint that teaching is all about performance targets these days, and there is some truth in that. It's a question of balance, though. The most rewarding part of the job is knowing that you're bringing the best out of every single child by creating an environment where they feel safe and motivated to learn."

Read Full Story Click here to comment