As 2011 draws to a close, we can be confident that the New Year will continue to offer real opportunities for the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) to work with providers and employers to develop and extend the Apprenticeship programmes in this country.

Having met with many representatives from FE over the last 12 months, I'm sure you will agree that the most successful Apprenticeships are delivered when FE Colleges and providers work in close partnership with employers. It is this thinking which underpinned the development of the Government's Higher Apprenticeship Fund.

It was back in the summer when we first looked at the impact of the Government's commitment to making a £25 million fund available to support the growth of quality Apprenticeships to degree level. Earlier this month, the 19 partnerships comprising of employers, FE Colleges, Universities and training providers that were successful in securing funding were announced. Together they will receive a share of the funding to develop higher Apprenticeships in sectors including construction, advanced engineering, insurance and financial services. As a result around 250 employers, including Leyland Trucks, Unilever, TNT and Burberry will benefit from world class, nationally accredited technical training delivered in the workplace.

It will come as no surprise to those working in the FE sector that the demand for the Higher Apprenticeships has outnumbered the initial aim of creating 10,000 places. And employers involved in the fund have pledged to make 19,000 places available once the new frameworks are in place.

From a survey NAS conducted, we know that around 50% of Advanced apprentices report they would be interested in progressing onto higher level qualifications. This certainly suggests an untapped demand among individuals and is supported by recent research undertaken by the University of Greenwich. This research shows that around 13% of apprentices progress into Higher Education within four years of completing their Apprenticeship. The results of the research speak for itself. We have the demand from employers and individuals who are determined, if the opportunity exists, to progress.

For the FE Sector, the creation of the Higher Apprenticeship programme will enable Colleges and Training Providers to provide the frameworks that can deliver the highly-skilled employees that businesses are telling us they need to recruit. What's more, the Higher Apprenticeship programme will allow us to work together to ensure that there are clear ladders of progression for apprentices. This will help ensure that employers can be confident that their apprentices can train beyond post-graduate level and secure additional professional qualifications. From my conversations with the sector I know this is something that all of you hold in high regard.

For those of you that have been following the development of the Higher Apprenticeship Fund closely, you will be aware that not all of the funding was allocated. The reason for this is because we wanted to ensure that all proposals selected were of the highest quality, met the demands of employers and were not a duplication of those already in existence. As a result, a second round for applications will be held in early 2012. I urge all FE College and Training Providers who believe they may have a contribution to make to the development of the Higher Apprenticeship Fund, to look out for announcement on the second round of bidding in the New Year.

The Higher Apprenticeship Programme is our opportunity to work together to put practical learning on a level footing with academic study. This will not only benefit the individual but is an essential step in helping to rebalance the economy.

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

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