Former professional footballer proves apprenticeships aren’t just for school leavers

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  • Former Wrexham FC striker James Colbeck is one of 144 apprentices at Cadent
  • UK’s biggest gas network takes on around 50 new apprentices every year
  • One in 10 are age 24 or older; 60% are 19 or older when they start with us

Like thousands of Liverpool teenagers, James Colbeck had one dream – to be a professional footballer.
Signed by pro club Wrexham, the young striker made a perfect start, scoring twice in a 4-1 win on his debut.
But just a few years later, James’ passion for the game was falling and he was worried about long-term prospects.
Now the 24 year old is an apprentice at Cadent, a company that’s busting a myth that apprenticeships are only for school leavers.
One in 10 of the gas distribution network’s 144 current apprentices joined the company age 24 or older. Sixty per cent were older than 19.
These apprentices include James, as well as David Walters, a former satellite installation technician from Maghull, who is 33, and Rachel Green, 31, from Stockport.

James is now training as a gas pressure control engineer, while David and Rachel have joined the Cadent ranks of first-call operatives, the team of emergency gas engineers who respond to reports of gas leaks or concerns about carbon monoxide.
James, from Huyton, said: “Football was the only thing in my childhood really. I was signed up to professional clubs from the age of seven, right up to when I was 21.

“I had trials at Everton, Tranmere and Wrexham and ended up at Wrexham.
“I got a contract for two years, but it just didn’t work out in the end. Different people came in and football is all about opinions.
“I went to do semi-professional football, with Connah’s Quay, but I just wasn’t enjoying it. I’d lost the passion I had from when I was younger. I started to realise there isn’t much security. I didn’t want to go from team to team every year. I just wanted a career that could set me up for life.
“I looked around online, spoke to my parents and they suggested going for an apprenticeship. I found the Cadent apprenticeship online and decided to get stuck into it. I applied, went to an assessment centre and impressed them enough to get the job. I started in 2015 and have enjoyed it ever since.
“I did think ‘am I too old at 22 to start an apprenticeship?’, normally it was something you do from school. But when I started, there was loads of people the same age as me – and older. Everyone has got a different story and a different background, so I’d say don’t be afraid to apply just because of your age.”
Reflecting on his football career, he added: “I scored twice on my debut, which made the local press. I was buzzing at the time, because that’s what I had worked for. I have good memories of playing football, but that’s mostly in the past now. I enjoy my job at Cadent just as much.”

Watch an interview with James here

David Walters is also delighted he had the courage to switch career. “I always thought I could do more than what I was doing. I had a good job, a technician, but it was not leading anywhere. I thought I could find a company that could put a bit of trust in me, I could pay them back and give them a lot of years. I am only 33, so I have still got a lot of years in me yet.
“It was obvious on my first day that maybe I was the oldest, because of the way I looked! But when I started to speak to people, and after the first week, nobody looked at me as the oldest one. We all did the same thing and got on really well.
“I was nervous that first week – I kept thinking they are going to turn around and say you’re too old, you’ve got through the system here!

“I was nervous at first to take that step, but now I’m over the moon that I did it. An apprentice doesn’t have to be 16 or 17, coming out of school – apprentice really means you are learning, you are at the beginning of something new.”

About his new role as an emergency gas engineer, David said: “I will be the first person on site, to make sure that life and property is safe. There might be a gas escape inside a property or outside, which might involve needing to evacuate buildings, to make sure everyone is safe and that nobody is getting hurt – so a big responsibility.
“No day is going to be the same and that’s part of the thrill of the job. You wake up in the morning and you don’t know where you are going to be.
“You could make a big impact for the local community.”

Watch an interview with David here

Also an apprentice gas emergency engineer is Rachel Green, from Stockport.
The 31 year old had spent years working her way up to senior roles in customer service, before recently deciding to go for a more ‘hands-on’ role.
“I realised it [my old job] just wasn’t for me,” said Rachel. “I was 30 when I decided to go for it. I know that the progression I am going to have here, and the quality of life, will be worth it. It doesn't matter what age you are; it's never too late to start again."
Watch an interview with Rachel here
Anyone interested in an apprenticeship with Cadent can get more information and sign up to the mailing list at


Cadent is the UK’s largest gas distribution network with a 200-year legacy.  We are in a unique position to build on strong foundations whilst encouraging the curiosity to think differently and the courage to embrace change.  Day to day we continue to operate, maintain and innovate the UK’s largest gas network, transporting gas safely and protecting people in an emergency.   Our skilled engineers and specialists remain committed to the communities we serve, working day and night to ensure gas reaches 11 million homes from Cumbria to North London and the Welsh Borders to East Anglia, to keep your energy flowing. 

Future of Gas: Here at Cadent we support the Government’s plans to reach Net Zero by 2050. That means we’re backing the introduction of hydrogen as a low carbon alternative to natural gas for the future. We know people love the controllability of gas and, with our network already in place, it makes sense to switch to the lower carbon alternative offered by hydrogen, which we believe can keep homes and businesses warm for generations to come.

Cadent manages the national gas emergency service free phone line on behalf of the gas industry - 0800 111 999*

Cadent Gas Ltd is owned by a consortium of global investors.

*All calls are recorded and may be monitored.

Media contacts

Kevin Hegarty

07970 694897