The government has hit its target of recruiting 2 million apprentices during this Parliament, business secretary Vince Cable has announced.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has revealed that 16-year-old Paige McConville became the 2 millionth apprentice when she started an advanced apprenticeship at high-tech engineering firm FMB Oxford in August.
To mark the occasion, Dr Cable visited both the firm and Abingdon and Witney College, where Ms McConville studies.
Dr Cable said the milestone was “testament to this government’s commitment to apprenticeships”.
“Paige and her employer are a shining example of how apprenticeships give young people the chance to start a career and give businesses the talent to grow," he said. “This isn’t just about numbers. From space engineering, to television production, to legal services, apprenticeships are the ticket to a great job and a route employers trust to access the skills they need.”
The business secretary also announced 22 new employer-designed apprenticeships in professions ranging from data analysis and civil engineering to health and social care. The employers, who are part of the government’s "trailblazer" scheme, have designed the apprenticeships to meet the needs of their industries.
The news about the 2 millionth apprentice was welcomed by Richard Atkins, president of the Association of Colleges. However, he insisted that the apprenticeship programme was only “part of the answer” for meeting the need for vocational and technical skills in the workplace.
“Employers and colleges should be given the flexibility to work more closely together to develop learning programmes and qualifications which are relevant and up to date, so that young people and adults can gain the skills required for the modern workplace," he said.
“We would like to see a continued commitment to skills training from the next government, including the development of a pre-apprenticeship programme to support those who are not yet ready to take up a full apprenticeship with an employer.”
Last week, chancellor George Osborne announced that the government would abolish almost all National Insurance contributions for apprentices aged under 25.
This means that employers of some half a million apprentices will be exempt from paying the contributions when the change comes into effect in April 2016.
Autumn Statement: FE sector welcomes 'cheaper apprentices' - December 2014