Around 8,000 youngsters are now vying for just 200 places on the award-winning rail engineering apprentice scheme. This year it pre-registered twice as many hopefuls as 2010.
In the last year many more older youngsters applied to join as unemployment soars among the young and some think twice about university courses with higher education costs set to rise.
Apprentices aged over 22 have increased five-fold since 2007 and accounted for over a fifth of intake in 2010, with its oldest apprentice aged 35.
In 2007, two thirds of apprentices were aged 17-18. Last year this had almost halved and 43% of apprentices were aged 19-21.
The change in age profile has spurred Network Rail to call for a national debate on the funding for older apprentices, who receive far less Government support.
Equal funding support for 19+s as for those aged 16-18 would help businesses across Britain drive recovery and create as many apprenticeships as possible.
At present there is 50% less support for apprentices aged 19 or over, making it more costly to run a scheme as more older apprentices join.
Acting chief executive Peter Henderson said: “The huge numbers we’re attracting each year shows young people recognise an apprenticeship can offer a path to a challenging and rewarding career. For us it has proven great value in investing in our people.
“With such competition for places, it is vital that if business is to lead this country to economic recovery, the right support is needed.
“A more flexible approach offering equal support for all apprentices, whatever their age, would help businesses large and small create the apprenticeships and the skilled workforce Britain needs to thrive.”
- In 2010, 65% of Network Rail’s apprentice intake were aged 19 or over
- In 2007, the age of its oldest apprentice was 25. Last year it was 35.
- The number of apprentices aged 17-18 that it has taken on has reduced by 29% since 2007.
- Women still only make up around 5% of the intake – low but nearly twice the national average for engineering apprenticeships