Don’t retire, retrain: meet the oldest apprentice at British Gas

  • A third of British Gas apprentices are aged over 30
  • Who can apply for an apprenticeship?
  • The value of training

While nearly half of British people mistakenly believe apprenticeships are just for school leavers, not everyone shares this misconception.

martin coupland

Martin Coupland, 60, from Llantwit Major in South Wales, is proud to be the oldest apprentice to ever train at the British Gas academy in Tredegar when he started his apprenticeship in 2015.

Coupland, who works as an apprentice smart energy expert, said: “I’ve spent the last 40 years working in different roles in the Royal Air Force and in civil aircraft engineering. I worked as an aircraft fitter and more recently I was self-employed as a technical instructor training aircraft engineers.

“I travelled overseas to train in places like Jordan, but I found that there wasn’t much work. So I decided to become a handyman, doing odd jobs like gardening and painting work. I happened to find out about the British Gas apprenticeship and I’ve enjoyed every minute so far.”

Refusing to consider early retirement, Coupland applied for hundreds of jobs and was shocked when he secured an interview at British Gas.

“I was sceptical at first. I applied for the role as it sounded good and I like a challenge. I didn’t know what the role entailed. When they offered the job to me, I was surprised and thought ‘good heavens’."

A British Gas independent national survey has revealed that 44% of people in the UK would not even consider an apprenticeship as a route to beginning a new career. Almost a quarter (23%) think they are too old.​

Nearly a third of the company's current apprentices are aged over 30.


Learning new skills

He said: “The training I’ve received has been excellent and the support I’ve received from mentors and trainers has been second to none. I’ve learnt new skills, including pipe-work and soldering. Every day I feel more confident in my abilities."

“I like that I get to meet and help new customers every day – it keeps the job fresh. A lot of our customers are older and when they find out that I’m an apprentice, they’re always pleasantly surprised!"

Coupland has now finished his training at the academy and is able to visit customer homes on his own.

"I finished training formally 6 months ago, and am officially qualified dual-fuel. I was actually signed off to work unsupervised over a year ago.”

“The bulk of the training is on the job, initially with 100% supervision by a mentor. You only spend about 10 weeks in the Academy, and there are about a dozen exams to pass. I trained for 5-6 months, then I was out with customers for 5-6 months.”

Martin now even mentors some of the younger apprentices in training.

“I now find myself occasionally mentoring new lads coming through. The job is everything promised and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. Every job is different, every customer is different, which all helps to keep you on the ball.

“My family were impressed that I got the job, but they weren’t surprised as they know what I’m like.”


Enthusiasm and commitment 

Although Coupland admitted to finding the initial experience slightly daunting, he has no regrets. He strongly believes many businesses would greatly benefit from hiring a mature apprentice, particularly in sectors facing skills shortages.

“Some companies think they won’t get a return on their investment as an older apprentice will retire in five or six years, but I don’t intend on retiring. Even when I’m no longer earning money, I will still do something in some sort of voluntary capacity.”

While the research highlights misconceptions over who can apply for an apprenticeship, it is clear that people recognise the value of this kind of training. 

Almost a fifth (19%) of people said that if they had their time again they would definitely do an apprenticeship, while a further 32% said they would seriously consider it.

“Age is the essence of the mind... I’m physically and mentally fit. I enjoy the job, it’s great and gives me fulfilment and my enthusiasm hasn’t wavered.” 

“I have a cocker spaniel called Poppy, who is 11 years old, but she acts like she is three. She gets my wife and I out of the house.”

“In the future, I’d like to possibly become a trainer myself, if the opportunity comes along. I would love to share the great experience I’ve had during my training and to inspire others with my journey," added Coupland.


Published January 2017, all facts and figures correct at the time of publishing.

First published 18th March 2016, in Training Journal.

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