According to new Government figures released this month, the number of new apprenticeships will reach half a million this year.
Provisional figures show that 256,500 people embarked on an apprenticeship between August 2011 and January 2012, consisting of 79,100 people aged under 19, 77,100 aged between 19 and 24, and 100,300 adults aged 25 or over.
Skills Minister, John Hayes, said that the focus is on the quality of programmes as well as boosting numbers:
“These increases are extremely encouraging and it is testament to the Government’s unwavering commitment to apprenticeships. They are at the heart of our skills policy because they equip people with the skills they need for a prosperous future and provide businesses with the expertise they need to grow.”
Apprenticeship schemes have been criticised in some quarters for not creating enough employment opportunities for young people, but Hayes added that it was “particularly encouraging” to see such a large proportion of apprenticeship starts among the under-25 age group.
According to the Institute for Public Policy Research, in the 2010/11 academic year, the number of training placements rose by 50% to reach 442,700 – a total that looks set to be surpassed this year. Of those 442,700, apprenticeships among the over-25s had grown by 257%, for 19 to 24-year-olds by 22%, and for the 16-18 year category 10%.
The figures come in the same week that John Hayes announced all apprenticeships will now need to last a minimum of 12 months, from August 2012, "to raise the bar on standards".
"The momentum we have created by building the apprenticeship brand has brought about unprecedented success for the apprenticeship programme.
"The majority of apprenticeships are the gold standard in vocational training. They boost individuals' life chances and build the skills that drive growth.
"They also provide a great return on public money. This has been independently recognised with the National Audit Office finding that apprenticeships generating £18 for the economy for every £1 spent.
"But we must be relentless in our drive to ensure all apprenticeships are as good as the best, to identify and root out any instances of poor quality provision, and to raise the bar on standards.
"We are taking strong and decisive action to tackle short duration so all apprentices receive high quality training and workplace learning setting them on the road to a long, rewarding career."
Last February marked Apprenticeship Week, with a host of major employers, including Starbucks and BAE Systems, announcing new training places.