The latest statistical release from the Skills Funding Agency’s Data Service shows that the number of apprentices in the UK reached a record high of 870,000 in 2012/13.
Since 2010 there have been 1.5 million apprenticeship starts, of which 500,000 were in the last financial year. On an annual basis the 2012/13 figure represented an increase of 77% on 2009/10, said Skills and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock. Besides, the number of people in higher apprenticeships in 2012/13 was 13,000, a two-fold increase on the previous year, the minister added. This is the highest number since higher apprenticeships were introduced by the government. At the same time, the number of people engaged in advanced level apprenticeships went up by 19% on the year to some 380,000 in 2012/13.
The number of apprentices under the age of 19, however, registered a decrease in the period, resulting from the heightened focus on quality and the fact that now all apprenticeships involve actual jobs and not just training, which raised the performance threshold. The number of new apprenticeship starts has not increased, as a consequence of the fact that the minimum apprenticeship term is now one year. However, the scrapping of six-month programmes was considered essential for raising quality standards.
Hancock expressed hope that an apprenticeship will soon become the usual alternative to university for college and school leavers, something that could be done with a strong focus on the quality that employers look for in apprentices.
Following reforms announced in October, apprenticeships are now much more industry-specific and employer-led, ensuring that the participants have the specific skills needed for the particular industry sector. They are also more rigorous than before in order to ensure the high quality of the qualifications acquired.