Apprenticeship numbers reach half-million mark, the Government reveals

The number of people taking up apprenticeships has continued to rise, hitting the half-million mark, new data shows.

The statistics reveal that from August 2011 to July 2012, over a full academic year, 502,500 people began an apprenticeship.

"Hitting the half-million mark is a momentous achievement for this Government's apprenticeship programme," said Skills Minister Matthew Hancock.

He added: "It shows our passion for skills, and is a ringing endorsement from employers and apprentices alike, who are reaping the benefits of a more highly-skilled workforce.

"This rise comes despite tougher rules to make apprenticeships more rigorous. I am particularly pleased to see such a big increase in the number of people signing up for advanced level and higher level apprenticeships."

Mr Hancock said the Government wants continued improvements to apprenticeships.

The goal is for apprenticeships to be more rigorous, of a higher quality and employer-focused, he said. To that end, the Government will be introducing tougher standards to the programme, including the requirement that all apprenticeships last a minimum of 12 months.

While there is more work to do to ensure everyone in the UK reaches their potential, Mr Hancock said: "The apprenticeship programme shows the Government's passion for delivering the skills Britain needs. And my message to employers is simple: apprenticeships make good business sense. I urge all employers to get involved."

The statistics also revealed that more people were taking part in the Skills for Life courses aimed at improving basic skills, with 1,545,500 signed up in the 2011/12 academic year.

But while the overall apprenticeship numbers are positive, the ages of the participants point to some worrying trends that are not helping the growing ranks of the UK's unemployed youth, some commentators suggested.

"The increase in apprenticeships is very welcome, but much of that growth has come from over-25s, rather than in places for young people," said Tess Lanning, senior research fellow at the IPPR think-tank.

She added: "Over-25s now take 44% of all apprenticeships. What's more, workplace skills training for adults has fallen by 275,400 places, suggesting that employers have simply shifted their workers on to apprenticeships in order to continue getting government funding."

Copyright Press Association 2012