Businesses appear to have ditched their efforts to recruit graduates in first two months of 2016, instead focusing on apprenticeships, according to the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR).

AGR's research shows a 24% rise in apprenticeship opportunities this year, compared with just a 2% rise in graduate vacancies. Last year, graduate recruitment grew by 13%, the association said.

Despite the slowing growth of graduate recruitment, the survey also showed that graduates remain valuable to businesses and account for the majority of young people being hired. The employers surveyed said they are looking to fill more than 14,000 graduate positions in 2016, nearly 5,000 internships and more than 3,000 apprenticeships.

Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the AGR, said: "Apprentice policy is driving many employers to ramp-up their apprenticeships on a much larger scale than we'd anticipated. We don't know what the long-term effects will be, but this isn't a case of employers' cannibalising their graduate schemes.

"We're hearing that businesses view the two groups very separately and that they are complimentary. Employers are engaging earlier and opening their doors to a wider group of people by presenting alternative options."

AGR said more than half of the 22,000 'early talent' vacancies are yet to be filled, with roles in IT, law and finance management the most populous.

Mr Isherwood added: "It's a candidate market at the moment and employers are finding it increasingly difficult to fill roles. We're seeing nearly one in ten offers reneged as candidates pull out at the last minute for alternative positions. It's not too late to apply for an intern, apprentice or graduate scheme, as there are still thousands of roles available."