Noon founder Eleanor Mills in conversation with some of the Amazon mid-life apprentices

Becoming a mid-life apprentice

There are all sorts of ways you can make a change to your career in mid-life, becoming an apprentice is something that not many Queenagers realise is one of them. Diane Kenwood investigates what apprenticeships involve and how they work at Amazon UK. 

I wonder how many Queenagers who are thinking of pivoting their career, joining, or re-joining, the workforce in mid-life consider making that change with adult apprenticeships? My bet is, not many. Not least because I’m pretty sure there are very few people who realise that apprenticeships aren’t just something that’s available to school or university leavers, they’re something you can do at, quite literally, any age or stage of your life or career.

Salema Aboo, 41, a Learning and Development consultant Apprentice at Amazon, certainly didn’t think an apprenticeship would be for her. “I had been working in children’s social care for 22 years and I knew I wanted a career change, but with a mortgage and three children, I didn’t know how I could achieve that. Then I saw that Amazon have a diverse range of apprenticeships available. It’s an amazing opportunity and a great chance to learn something new whilst earning and having your training paid for.”

A win-win opportunity

“Becoming an apprentice somewhere like Amazon is a win-win for Queenagers,” says Noon founder, Eleanor Mills. “It means they get a new qualification, experience working at a huge global corporation and learning new skills whilst still earning a salary. It’s a game-changer for everyone involved in a midlife pivot.”

Prior to 2017, apprenticeships for 18-24 year olds were fully funded by the government’s Skills Agency. If a company wanted to offer apprenticeships to anyone over that age, the employer had to contribute. Funding was based on age and in favour to school leavers. Meaning opportunities were few and far between and almost entirely focused on trade and traditional skills.

Then, in 2017, the government introduced the Apprenticeship Levy, obliging any employer with a salary bill of over £3 million a year to pay 0.5% of their total salary bill into the levy. This becomes the employer apprenticeship levy which covers the cost of the apprenticeship training.  Levy paying employers have up to 24 months to invest the levy before it’s returned to the treasury, (25% of previous year unused funds can be transferred to other employers to cover the cost of the apprenticeship for their employees).

What this did was to entirely change the apprenticeship landscape, opening it up to a far more diverse pool of people, and offering far more wide-ranging skill opportunities. What it didn’t do was to change the perception of apprenticeships. Which is something that companies like Amazon are working hard to rectify.

Apprenticeships at Amazon

Amazon currently has over 1,700 UK and Ireland participants on their Apprenticeship Programme ranging in age from 18 to 70 and the company is very clear about the value that their older apprentices bring to both the programme and the business. As Abbie Savage, Talent Acquisition Lead, Amazon Apprenticeship team, explains. “What we get from people who join the scheme in midlife is innovation of thought and application of practical experience. If we have a woman who’s been at home for 10 years, for example, bringing up children and running a household, then we see somebody who almost certainly has great practical skills in procurement, logistics, psychology, time management and negotiation. Amazon can leverage those skills and help that person apply them to a commercial environment. And because these are people who are far more likely to ask “why do we do it like that?” we introduce diversity of thought and an application of practical knowledge to the business, as well as innovation that we never even realised we needed.”

Nicola Drury is the UK Apprenticeship Lead at Amazon. She is keen to emphasise that the scheme is there to “provide opportunities for anybody from any background the chance to up-skill or re-skill, regardless of their background or where they are in their career. We recognise that the life experiences of people who are breakers, changers or pivoters make them far more open and adaptable, as well as giving them the ability to see things from a different perspective, which is something we really value at Amazon.”

Becoming an apprentice in mid-life

Nicola acknowledges that one of the key barriers for anyone considering doing an apprenticeship at a later stage is financial. Once you get to mid-life, you’re almost certain to have commitments and responsibilities that make it imperative for you to earn a decent wage whilst you’re learning. “The national apprentice minimum salary is £5.28 per hour,” she says “Amazon, like many, pays well above that.  So, whilst the levy is paying for the apprentice’s education, employers pay their salary and they get commercial experience at the same time. It really does tick all the boxes.”

UK Apprenticeship Lead at Amazon, Nicola Drury, with Eleanor Mills and one of the apprentices on the scheme

That’s something that certainly rings true for Alex Oxley, a Project Management Apprentice at Amazon. “I was a primary school teacher, but after Covid I reprioritised everything and wanted to spend more time with my children, who are 14 and 12, without being exhausted by other people’s’. I couldn’t afford to make the change without working so I looked into apprenticeship schemes, although initially I didn’t know there were any available at my age and stage. I was worried I would be the oldie on the scheme, but it was reassuring to discover there were others in my group of a similar age”

Salema admits to being uncertain how her previous experience would relate to the apprentice role “I’m always questioning why I’m here and why I got selected. But my team always reassure me that it doesn’t matter that I don’t have retail experience, and that they employed me for fresh eyes and the way I give them a new perspective on things.”

Different kinds of qualifications

The programme offers a variety of qualifications, from advanced learning to degree level, with the time scale of each one varying accordingly. Salema’s apprenticeship is a Level 5 Learning practitioner apprenticeship and runs for two years, whilst Alex will take three years to complete her programme and will emerge with a Batchelor of Science in Project Management. Both women will have also gained invaluable work experience during their time on the scheme.

“Once you’ve successfully completed your apprenticeship programme, you will have developed both your occupational skills and soft skills, enabling you to apply them effectively to future opportunities” says Nicola.  “While we cannot assure specific roles upon programme completion, as we cannot predict the vacancies available, we aim to equip you with the skills needed for a range of potential opportunities” she goes on. “Our goal is for people to have the opportunity to complete an apprenticeship and have had the relevant work experience in their chosen occupation, which puts them in a great position to apply for roles either within or outside the company. As a large employer, whilst we want to offer opportunities across our footprint, we also want to support skills in the wider economy. On average the majority of apprentices do end up working for Amazon. And those that don’t, because they come with a qualification and the experience of working in Amazon, they tend to get snapped up in other businesses.”

“Do it! There’s nothing to lose”

The Amazon apprentices are clear about the benefits of the programme and why they would encourage other mid-life women to consider doing an apprenticeship. “It’s an amazing opportunity and a great chance to learn something new whilst earning and having your training funded” says Salema. Senior People Professional apprentice, Sarika Shah, 36, adds this “To anyone considering doing this, I’d say grab the opportunity with both hands. It’s something that will enhance your life no matter what. Yes, it’s stressful at times, but the gains are greater than the pain points and you’ll meet great people, develop new skills and learn more about yourself.” Whilst Alex is even more to the point “Do it! There’s nothing to lose. You’ve got your other experience so you can always go back to it. But life is short, so grab the opportunities when you can.”

Thinking of applying for an Amazon apprenticeship? Here’s what you need to know.

“First of all, Amazon is a place that recognises and celebrates individuality and innovation and sometimes the hardest person to draw that out of you is yourself,” says Abbie. “So go to your fan club and ask them what they think you’re good at. That’s what you need to think about when you’re choosing which scheme you want to apply for.

We don’t need a perfectly written cover letter or a perfectly crafted CV (though it does need to be up to date). What we want to see is what you can bring to our business. Our leadership principles include ownership, learn and be curious, and invent simplify. These are pivotal to success in apprenticeships, so that’s what we’re looking for, not specific work-related skills or experience. You’ll be coming into a business that welcomes people who are brave enough to step into the unknown.”

The Amazon application process

Go to the AMAZON WEBSITE, look at the programmes that are available – there’s a UCAS quiz which might help you on your direction of travel (we don’t want to see people who are applying for everything, because what that tells us is that you don’t really know what you want to do). Apply for something that lends itself to your interests and what you’re likely to be good at.

Look at the programme of your choice, click onto the link, upload your CV and complete the tick boxes that relate to right to work and confirming you’ve got the necessary academic base line levels.

You’ll then be put through a couple of simple on-line tests.

If you do well in those, we’ll invite you to a video interview.  Should you be successful following this, you will then be invited to partake in an assessment centre which will involve a welcome session, a group exercise, two short interviews with members of the hiring team and a presentation.

You’ll then be notified if you’ve been successful or not.

We’ll ask you to commit to the full duration of the programme and once you do, you’ll start in either July or September depending on your programme.

Applications for the 2024 apprenticeship scheme are already open, and are already proving very popular, so if you think you’d be interested, don’t delay your application, get your CV uploaded and into the system.

If apprenticeships in general are something you want to explore more, here’s what to do

Lots of research! The best place to start is the Department for Education Apprenticeship portal . What’s particularly important about that, is that it lists the salaries of the schemes. These aren’t always listed on the corporate websites, so if getting a salary at a certain level is important for you, the DofE site is where to begin.

Look for businesses whose corporate values resonate with you, where you think you would be happy spending up to 4 years. Apprenticeships require commitment and resilience, especially the degree programmes, so you want to be as sure as you can that you’ll enjoy your time with the company.

Consider what commitment you want to give in terms of time and whether you want to do a shorter Advanced Learning programme, or a degree one. The degree is obviously more challenging but they’re both recognised industry standards and they both give you work experience.

By Diane Kenwood

See Noon founder Eleanor Mills in conversation with Nicola and some of the Amazon mid-life apprentices HERE

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