Recently a reader who is starting his second career inquired about older recruits and if they are subject to specific training issues. I have no hard data regarding the number of "older" recruits of today, but they are not as unusual as you might think. If you are thinking about a new career, read on.
I have trained many fine officers who were in their late 30s and 40s upon academy graduation. Sometimes life throws you a curveball and this is what happens. Many I knew had retired from the military, some didn't find their first careers fulfilling, and some just wanted to fulfill their lifelong dream and were only able to go for it now. It matters not; older recruits can be just as successful (if not more so) than their younger counterparts.
I remember one recruit entering his second career who was problematic. He had retired from the military and was of the mindset that the only person who could train him was someone chronologically older than he was. This created a problem; the only person older than he on the watch was the commander. Somewhere in his brain was a belief that age was the measure of an officer, not experience.
The FTO sergeant finally had to intervene and explain that street experience—or what he called exposure—is what counts. Finally, an analogy of a tank driver teaching a medic made this clear to him. An FTO's career and street experience, coupled with his or her level of maturity on the job, is what's important, not chronological age.
This works in reverse as well. Every FTO should seek out the true life experiences of the recruit to individualize teaching. I recall a former EMT who decided to become a cop. She excelled in several areas due to her life experience as an EMT. She didn't need any emergency first-aid lessons. What was important was to explain to her not to confuse the roles. In the past, her concerns as an EMT arriving on scene had been a jump bag, triage, and so on. Now, as a police officer, it was who was driving the car in an accident, for example.
Another interesting recruit was a former minister who became a cop. He brought to the table great interpersonal communication skills, for he had been formally trained as a counselor.
Finding the right match between FTO and FTR makes the program difficult to administer at times. FTOs are selected for a litany of reasons. Their street experience is important, for we want to avoid any rookies training rookies. You cannot use chronological age as a measuring device, but rather a combination of exposure, training, and street maturity to provide a balanced presentation to the recruit.
On the recruit side, you bring with you life experiences, training, and a desire to learn. Some of the younger recruits have comparatively little life experience if they're straight out of college, while others may be veterans returning to civilian life who possess immense life experience. Others, like the EMT or minister examples, bring a different perspective to the mix.
What is important here is for both sides to recognize the recruit brings with him or her, both strengths and weaknesses. Then the FTO should be able to temper or adjust the training to fit the needs of each individual recruit.
Yes, people have their differences, but the number of birthday candles on the cake should not be one that matters. What is so dynamic about policework is that all officers bring with them their individual perspectives to the mix. Blend them, understand them, and use all of this to the advantage of all.
Train smart and train with meaning.