By Claire West

Today, Business Secretary Vince Cable and Skills Minister John Hayes urged more employers to drive economic growth by creating a new generation of skilled workers, while underling the government’s commitment to increase the budget for Apprenticeships to over £1,400 million in 2011-12.

Dr Cable welcomed the expansion of British Airways successful engineering apprenticeship scheme, to take on 120 students this year. This will give more students the opportunity to become full time employees of British Airways.

Ministers also praised UK firms including British Gas, Superdrug and Procter and Gamble, which between them will create thousands of new apprenticeship places this year. BT, which hosted the event, is offering 250 places across the Group, and Jaguar Land Rover will create 1,200 new Apprenticeship places.

Calling on firms to follow the lead of these employers, Dr Cable said that the Government wanted to work with business to deliver 100,000 more apprentices by 2014. He welcomed the news that 12,000 apprentices would complete their training at Morrison’s this year.

Ahead of the launch of Apprenticeship Week in London, Dr Cable said that investment in training the next generation of highly skilled workers would be key to sustainable economic growth, and called for an end to outdated values that have seen vocational learning branded a poor relation to academic study.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said:

"I want to reinforce the message to business and young people that apprenticeships are a first-class way to start a career. That is why my department has pledged to work to create some 75,000 additional adult places than those promised by the previous government.

"Some of the most prestigious companies in England — large and small, public and private — employ apprentices and benefit from doing so. More than 30% of Rolls-Royce apprentices have progressed to senior management roles within the company. And 80% of those who employ apprentices agree that they make the workplace more productive.

"I’m calling on more businesses to follow this lead."

Dr Cable will go on to visit apprentices at HMS Sultan, a large apprentice training base in Gosport, Portsmouth to meet apprentices in a range of disciplines, including engineering for the Royal Navy and Network Rail.

Skills Minister John Hayes, who launched the Skills Strategy in November with ambitious plans for apprenticeships at its heart, announced that apprenticeship frameworks would be renamed to confer greater recognition and status on those who successfully complete their Apprenticeships - and to make it clear that apprentices can progress to higher stages of learning through the apprenticeships programme, including to university.

Level 2 (GCSE level equivalent) apprenticeships will now be known as Intermediate Level Apprenticeships. Level 3 (A level equivalent) will become Advanced Level Apprenticeships and Higher Apprenticeships will remain unchanged. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills is also working with Sector Skills Councils to develop more Higher Apprenticeships (Level 4) frameworks.

Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning Minister John Hayes said:

"Our ultimate goal remains to see apprentices achieve equivalent esteem and status with university graduates, so that a place on an apprenticeship scheme is as valued as one at a university.

"In government, I have sought to characterise our policy by its commitment to apprenticeships. In my role as Minister at the Department for Education, I will work with the National Apprenticeship Service to bring forward plans for graduation ceremonies for apprentices and their families, together with an apprentice honour roll.

"BIS and the National Apprenticeship Service will facilitate the creation of alumni network, mirroring those currently used by graduates."

Mr Hayes is also working with the Department for Work and Pensions to look at how people on unemployment benefits could be offered apprenticeship places as well as working with ministerial colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and Department for Education to help reduce youth unemployment and disengagement.

This week Mr Hayes will be meeting with Peter Jones, Trade Unions, and national companies to promote National Apprenticeships Week.

BT chairman Sir Michael Rake said:

"Apprenticeships are undoubtedly good for BT’s business and play a key role in ensuring that we maintain and develop a highly skilled workforce. More importantly, for young people, they’re a great way to transform their raw enthusiasm into valuable skills that that will serve them well wherever their careers take them."