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The Secretary of State for Education has announced that the Government has reached its target for young people starting an Apprenticeship.

Ruth Kelly told the Association of Colleges" (AoC) annual conference in Birmingham that more than 175,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 21 have entered Apprenticeships over the 2004/2005 academic year. This represents a success for the government, who set the target as part of the Public Service Agreements (PSAs), which were introduced in 1998 to publicly set out clear targets for public service improvements.

Ms Kelly described the achievement as a "very significant milestone." "There is nothing more important than having the skills that employers value if you want to get on at work and make the most of your working life," she said, "Apprenticeships are a fantastic way to gain skills and experience."

Route Into Work

Evidently the Education Secretary echoed the thoughts of many young people today, when she described apprenticeships as "a route to employment, to promotion and the skills required for employment." The number of Apprenticeships available has tripled since 1997, and now stands at over 250,000.

Chris Banks, Chairman of the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), said that the amount of young people starting apprenticeships is now "the highest number"¦we have ever had in this country," adding that the new figures were "fantastic news."

There are currently 255,500 young people aged 16-24 undertaking apprenticeships in the UK. The programme, which is funded and promoted by the LSC, offers the chance to train on and off the job whilst being paid. Apprenticeships can be equivalent to GCSE level, and incorporate an NVQ to Level 2; Advanced Apprenticeships are equivalent to A-Levels and include an NVQ to Level 3. There is a diverse range of options available, covering over 180 career paths in 80 different sectors.

Kelly's FE Praise

Ruth Kelly praised the work of those in the Further Education sector, saying that the rise in Apprenticeships "has been achieved thanks to huge efforts by colleges, training providers, the LSC and many others,." She also paid tribute to the role of "forward looking employers," who are able to use Apprenticeships to create specialised and highly motivated staff.

The figures also show an increased in the number of people who fully complete the Apprenticeship programme, up by 8% from last year, and an overall 15% rise since the Learning and Skills Council took over the management of Apprenticeships in 2000. The rate of full completion now stands at 39%.

Further Improvement Needed

However, despite the good news, the rate of completion is one area in which the LSC is keen to see further improvement. LSC Chairman Chris Banks said that meeting the target is "only the beginning." The "new challenge," he said, is to increase the number of people completing their full Apprenticeship. An increase of 75% has been suggested as a target for 2007/8, with four sectors "“ healthcare, childcare, construction, and hospitality "“ selected for specific action.

The ability to earn whilst training means that apprenticeships are an essential way of making career development accessible to people who may otherwise lower their horizons. With Gordon Brown and Charles Clarke announcing last year that they plan to introduce Young Apprenticeships for students aged 14-16 and Adult Apprenticeships for those people aged 25 and over, the improvement in the range of accessible and high quality vocational training, which is reflected in the increase in young people undertaking Apprenticeships, looks set to continue.

Jessica Brammar

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