The number of apprentices in England could hit the 500,000 mark before the next general election, skills minister John Hayes has claimed.
After it was announced last week that the Government had created 103,000 new adult apprenticeships in 201011 - double its 50,000 target - the minister told FE Focus that he hoped to continue expanding the programme.
Mr Hayes said he was keen to see Government FE policy "defined" by the apprenticeship programme, by increasing opportunities for workers with both low-level and high-level skills.
He insisted there was a genuine opportunity to create 500,000 apprenticeships - the target set by Gordon Brown, then chancellor of the exchequer, in 2007 - but said this could be delivered before the next general election, at least five years earlier than Labour's 2020 aim.
"It was (Brown's) biggest ambition, a long-term aim; something he dreamt of, rather than expected to achieve," Mr Hayes said.
"If we maintain this momentum, if we can keep it going, I think we can achieve that in the lifetime of this Government, on my watch."
Provisional figures published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) show that 257,000 adult apprenticeships were delivered in 201011 - well above its 203,000 target.
A BIS spokesman confirmed that the figures included learners who had previously been on the Train to Gain scheme, which officially closes at the end of this month.
Mr Hayes said: "The numbers I wasn't aware of, but I knew . it was going well."
He praised colleges for picking up the Government's targets "extremely quickly".
"They were always well equipped to do that, but they have never had the opportunity before.
"I always felt there was a latent demand, which is now manifest, with the sharp change in numbers.
"National Apprenticeship Week was bigger than it's ever been before; it has had more coverage than it ever got before.
"I have worked hard to change the status of apprenticeships and raise the profile of apprenticeships," he added.
Mr Hayes said he would make further announcements about developing level 5 advanced apprenticeships "to sit comfortably alongside higher education", as well as the "access to apprenticeships" scheme as a "vehicle for re- engagement" for learners without the necessary entry qualifications.
The minister added that his ambition was to make apprenticeships an "option of choice", with the same profile as traditional academic qualifications such as A-levels, GCSEs and degrees.
The Government is also looking to increase the number of apprenticeships in fields which have not proved popular, such as advanced manufacturing, creative industries and information systems technology.
Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group of large FE colleges, said: "The significant growth in apprenticeships is testament to the success of colleges and employers working together to help young people and adults gain the skills that are in demand and prepare them for the jobs that will help boost our economy. These figures offer real cause for celebration."