Skills Minister Matthew Hancock has been warned against promoting apprenticeships for over 50s along the same lines as those for under 25s after he said the programme for older people could help the country out of recession.

Tony Dolphin, senior economist for the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), said apprenticeships for older people were different to those for younger people and, as such, the programme should even be named differently.

He spoke out after Mr Hancock called for more people, aged over 50 and looking to change careers, to apply for “skilled apprenticeships”. Latest government figures showed 34,050 people aged over 50 started an apprenticeship in 2012/13, which was a slight fall from 34,770 in 2011/12.

Mr Dolphin told FE Week: “As the state pension age increases and people are expected to work longer, more men and women in this [over 50] age group will choose to — or find that they have to — follow a new career and they will need training to help them do so.

“But this training should be geared specifically towards people who have lots of experience in the workforce and need to adapt their existing skills.

“It will, therefore, be very different from the sort of training offered to young people making the transition from education into work.

“It should not be branded as ‘apprenticeships’ — these should be reserved for the under 25s.

“Instead, the government should, in conjunction with businesses, workforce representatives and FE providers, develop a new system of adult education and training appropriate for a labour market in which people are expected to work longer and are more likely to change jobs.”

The most recent statistical first release showed that more than a third — 11,320 — of over 50 apprenticeship starts in 2012/13 were in health, care and public services, with 11,790 in business, administration and law and 5,690 in retail and commercial enterprise.

Another 3,200 started apprenticeships in engineering and manufacturing and 810 in education and training.

It is estimated that by 2020 around a third of the workforce will be aged over 50.

But more than 425,000 over 50s are currently unemployed and half have been out of work for at least a year.

Mr Hancock said improving job prospects for the age group, through improved take-up rates for apprenticeships, could be an important driving force for the country’s economic recovery.

“As we recover from the great recession we need to build a recovery for all,” he said.

“Apprenticeships increasingly help people of all ages get the skills they need to get the new jobs becoming available.

“Our priority is to build on the best of the apprenticeships programme, expanding apprenticeships where they deliver the greatest benefits for employers, apprentices and the wider economy.

“Demand from employers for adult apprenticeships is growing, because they help people of all ages — including the over 50s — to get and hold down skilled jobs.

“There are many benefits for employers of apprentices.  Apprenticeships are a cost-effective way for businesses to harness fresh talent, tackle skills shortages and become equipped for economic growth.

“Research shows that apprenticeships help companies build a loyal and motivated workforce, and that investment is usually recouped within three years.”

Mr Hancock’s comments followed last month’s exclusive FE Week interview with Business Secretary Vince Cable, who revealed the government was “dropping” the troubled 24+ advanced learning loans system for apprenticeships.

With just 404 applications in around seven months, he “accepted” the system had failed, but said non-apprentice FE loans would remain.

A spokesperson for the Association of Employment and Learning Providers said: “This has removed a barrier to older people from applying for apprenticeships.

“It can be a route into management for people who may not have done a degree who have a wealth of experience and skill. It gives them a qualification that’s valued by employers.”