Older apprentices are delivering huge value to a Furness business according to its managing director.

Wardgroup in Barrow employs apprentices aged between 21 and 43 across various arms of the business.

Managing director Ian Noble said: “Apprenticeships have been a core value of the Wardgroup operation since the business was formed in the 1800s.

“During my time with the business, we have had an ongoing commitment to providing apprenticeships and opportunities to the youngsters of the area in all of the fields we operate in, with many of them going on to develop their own businesses in the area.

“However, over the last five to 10 years we have had to deal with a trend in youngsters choosing to take up apprenticeship opportunities through BAE systems rather than through smaller local businesses.

“The very positive solution to this has been to look for and encourage more mature apprentices to join our team.

"They are usually in their late 20s or 30s and have chosen to make a career switch.

“We find their maturity and ambition to succeed is impressive and they deliver a return on our investment very quickly.”

Wardgroup has apprentices across its administration, glazing, plumbing and decorating divisions.

According to the most recent government figures, there were 361,400 apprenticeship starts reported between August 2018 and June 2019 for the 2018/19 academic year.

This compares to 341,700 reported in the equivalent period in 2017/18.

Sharon Dobie spent 23 years as a hairdresser before joining Wardgroup last April.

She is completing a City and Guilds level three apprenticeship in business administration.

The mum of two said: “It’s never too late to do something different.

"It was a huge change for me after 23 years in hairdressing but I’ve really enjoyed it and I would encourage other people to do the same.

“I’d never even been for an interview before so it was a nerve-wracking process. But everyone here at Wardgroup has been fantastic.”

“Apprenticeships are a great way to change career, learn new skills and put your experience and existing skills to good use.

“I’ve found a new career I enjoy, I’m gaining a qualification and have joined a fantastic team who are really supportive. I haven’t looked back.”

Ian added: “Apprenticeships are more important to us than ever before due to the skills shortage in local Industry.

“Many of the local tradesmen have been enticed into larger organisations leaving a void in the local SME skills market.

“Our business has no alternative than to train our own from grassroots level to maintain a sustainable workforce.

“The value to the trainee is tremendous as we believe the diversity in the skills required for our tradesmen gives the best training an apprentice can get locally.”