Alan Sugar

During the academic year of August 2011 to January 2012, new figures show that 256,500 people started an apprenticeship. The Government has been backing apprenticeships as a worthy use of time, particularly for younger people wishing to gain full-time employment post studies.

Apprenticeships are seen as a vital way of gaining and honing the necessary skills to compete in the 'real world'.  Skills Minister John Hayes expressed his joys at the news of the figures explaining: “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.”

Whilst apprenticeships are useful for people of all ages and stages in a career they are acknowledged as being particularly important for younger candidates and Mr Hayes is very happy with the percentage of people aged under 19 who have been involved. The figures for the dates above show 79,100 young people to have taken part. This can be compared to 77,100 for those between the ages of 19 and 24 and 100,300 for adults over 25. Hayes understands, however, that it is not just the quantity of apprenticeships on offer but the quality of those provided.

The Financial Times reported that the number of people starting apprenticeships in the UK rose by 64 per cent in 2010-11. It is accepted that the Government's push for apprenticeships above other forms of training has helped to boost participation figures. Unfortunately, there are still difficulties placing younger candidates into apprenticeships with employers remaining reluctant to take on those under the age of 19. This is, however, the group with the lowest growth and who accordingly require the benefits of an apprenticeship the most.

The growth in apprenticeships stretches out to a wide range of sectors with the latest figures from Semta, the sector skills council for manufacturing, showing the number of female engineering apprentices to have increased by 84% between 2002 and 2010.

The fact that apprenticeships receive public funding means that there are more on offer but some are concerned with their quality. Employers should offer them for the right reasons such as a real commitment to improvement of their skills base. Jaguar Land Rover, for example, recently announced that all new employees joining the production line at its Halewood plant will receive training towards an Intermediate Level 2 Apprenticeship.

An effective apprenticeship serves both sides. The figures are impressive and encouraging, now the Government have people on board they just need to ensure that the necessary standards are hit to fully realise their potential.

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