By Daniel Hunter

New statistics published today (Thursday) show a continued increase in the number of people taking up apprenticeships. The provisional data shows that for the full 2011/12 academic year (August 2011 to July 2012) 502,500 people started an apprenticeship.

Apprenticeship starts rose from 457,200 in 2010/11, at all levels, with particularly strong growth at advanced and higher levels.

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

“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, which open the road for people wanting to become engineers, lawyers and accountants.

“More must be done to ensure apprenticeships are more rigorous, higher quality, and more employer focused. We are introducing tougher standards, including a stipulation that all apprenticeships must last a minimum of 12 months.

“There is much more to do to ensure everyone in our country fulfils their potential, but 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 data also showed higher levels of learners on Skills for Life courses to improve their basic skills, with 1,545,500 participating during the 2011/12 academic year.

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