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The National Apprenticeship Service two years on

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In April the National Apprenticeship Service celebrated its second birthday and looking back I’m amazed how time has flown by since I joined the new organisation in its infancy. It’s incredibly rewarding to see that two years on Apprenticeships continue to grow at a great pace and remain high on the Government’s agenda.

A key factor in the success of Apprenticeships has been the hard work of the colleges and providers we work with across the country to ensure we continue to create quality Apprenticeship opportunities. Improving the quality of Apprenticeships to make them better suited to the needs of employers will be very much the focus for the National Apprenticeship Service in this coming year.

Boosting the supply of genuine, high quality, employer-owned Apprenticeship places, in particular at Advanced Level and above will sit at the centre of our activities. An advanced economy clearly needs advanced skills, so we want to improve progression routes through Apprenticeships into higher level skills. To achieve this we need to improve the work-readiness of 16-24 year-olds by ensuring that high quality training is available and young people are ready for Apprenticeships and the world of work.

This begins with ensuring that young people receive high quality careers education and advice about the range of options available to them and, specifically, the advice they need to make an informed decision on Apprenticeships. For potential apprentice candidates choosing a career is a big responsibility, whether you’re looking for something that matches hobbies, skills, qualifications or is something you’ve focused on for years, it can be hard to be certain what the right choice is. We will work very closely with the new national careers service to ensure the best possible information on Apprenticeships is available to all young people.

That choice is growing daily in Apprenticeships with new frameworks including Higher Apprenticeships being released over the next few months. We need to work with both employers and providers to ensure that these frameworks are made available as quickly as possible to potential apprentices. When all the frameworks are fully operational there will be over 250 types of Apprenticeship available, compared to the 200 we have today, and providing potential apprentices with over a thousand different job roles to choose from.

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A major part of this growth has been achieved by engaging with industries which are not traditionally associated with Apprenticeships and targeting sectors with the most potential for growth, such as financial, IT and creative and cultural. Growing Apprenticeships in these new areas will make a big difference to the number of employers we are able to support and the number of apprentices who are able to start their career through an Apprenticeship.

While improving quality is a key priority for the National Apprenticeship Service announcements made in the March budget will also help shape the future of Apprenticeships. I was pleased to see a £180m package for a further 50,000 Apprenticeship places. This includes funding for up to 40,000 additional Apprenticeship places to provide additional capacity to support young unemployed people, in particular through progression from the DWP work experience programme. Plus 10,000 Higher Apprenticeships focused on small and medium-sized employers. Overall, with the new measures this will deliver at least 250,000 more Apprenticeships over the next four years.

I’m confident that the initiative on Higher Apprenticeships will not only grow the number of Apprenticeship starts but will also help to give key parts of the economy the skills needed to provide growth. In addition new grant funding will support businesses coming together as consortia to build Advanced and Higher level Apprenticeship opportunities to address skills gaps.

As I began by saying the last two years have flown by and with our exciting and challenging new agenda set I suspect that the next 12 months will fly past too. This leads me to my final point which is to let you know we already have a date set for the next National Apprenticeship Week. Please put the 6 -10 February 2012 in your forward planners as your fantastic support for this annual celebration of Apprenticeships has been absolutely vital to its success.

Simon Waugh is chairman of the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS)

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