According to statistics published yesterday by the department of business, innovation and skills (BIS), the number of people taking up apprenticeships rose from 457,200 to 502,500 in the academic year August 2011 to July 2012.
Although the figures for apprenticeships rose, there was a drop in the wider take-up of adult learning in the workplace of over 275,000 places, according to Unionlearn, the learning and skills organisation of the TUC.
Unionlearn said training in the workplace is essential for all employees and valuable to employers, not just those who pursue the apprenticeships route. "Apprenticeships are a vital addition to the package of adult learning options – they must not become a replacement for other learning options that might better suit some employees," said a Unionlearn spokesperson.
Becci Newton, senior research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies, told HR magazine: " Any expansion in the use and reach of apprenticeships is broadly to be welcomed.
"However, this does not mean apprenticeships in the UK are perfect. There is often a lack of diversity in the people taking advantage of apprenticeships, and this needs attention.
"There needs to be much more work to ensure all young people can access the best route for their needs in order that they reach their full potential," she added.
UK skills minister, Matthew Hancock, said: "Hitting the half-million mark is a momentous achievement for this Government's apprenticeship programme.
"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."
Hancock added: "My message to employers is simple: apprenticeships make good business sense. I urge all employers to get involved."
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