WA’s oldest apprentice, Julyan Sumner, trading in shears for plumbing tools

At an age when many are thinking of retiring, former gun shearer Julyan Sumner, 64, decided to return to school and begin an apprenticeship as a plumber.

After working in stables across the state and shearing in Europe, Britain and the United States for 39 years, he found that the number of sheep across Australia meant his days in the industry were numbered.

He knew he had to find something to keep going until he couldn’t work anymore.

“I have to admit, when I first dropped out of school I wasn’t interested in being an apprentice because the pay was terrible and it was six or eight dollars a day which sounds terrible, but it was great back then” , he said.

“Yeah, I’ve been looking for the money I haven’t thought of.”

But now, at the other end of his professional life, he has made the choice of going to the junkyard or finding a new direction.

“Look, it’s out of necessity that I did this because my super won’t hold me,” he said.

“Fortunately, it’s an enjoyable thing I’m about to do.”

More mature trainees than ever before

For the first time since graduating from high school 48 years ago, he steps into a TAFE classroom in Bayswater and sits down with this year’s admission of teen apprentices to begin his new life as an apprentice plumber.

“Well, it will be less physically demanding compared to my previous experience,” said Sumner.

“I’m looking forward to it, I’m a little worried about how the gray matter will work.”

Instead of a senior citizen card, Mr. Sumner now proudly had a student ID.

“Sure, I’ve flashed my student ID a couple of times and you can almost see looks of disbelief on their faces!” he said.

He is just part of a growing army of mature workers seeking a fresh start late in life.

The number of teaching staff in WA has more than doubled in the past five years.

In the 12 months to September 2010, 60 people aged 45 and over began retraining for a profession.

In 2014 there were 138 apprentices of a ripe old age.

Friends surprised but supportive

Although Julyan Sumner could put his hand on almost anything that needed to be done on a farm, he lacked the piece of paper that would give him a guaranteed line of work.

A chance meeting a few years ago with a young licensed plumber in Hyden who was looking for a reliable worker began his journey of reinvention.

Mr. Sumner put away his shaving equipment and began working as a commercial assistant.

When a friend said to him last year, “Just make an apprentice plumber, four years will go by in a flash,” he realized it was time to do so.

With the support of his wife Susan, the decision was made.

“My wife is on board with me, she reckons that nothing is dared, nothing is won, which makes a big difference,” he said.

The Sumner’s friends were initially surprised.

“Colleagues at school or friends, it was an element of surprise,” said Ms. Sumner.

“‘Oh, does he do that?’ but then often followed by ‘good for him’, ‘yes, why not?’ “

WA Education Secretary Liza Harvey said she was pleased to hear of Mr. Sumner’s bold move into a new career.

“I think he’s a total role model for people, you know, he reinvents himself at 64 and says I’ll take an apprenticeship and say I’ll start a new career. I think it’s really exciting and I me just think he’s one of the most inspirational seniors I’ve heard of, “she said.

“Everyone in our community has the opportunity to interact with our training providers and start a new career, regardless of your age.

“He’s such a shining example and I’ll be watching his progress with interest.”

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