This week marked the sixth annual National Apprenticeship Week, designed to promote the impact of apprenticeships on individuals and the wider economy.
Last year, apprentice numbers passed a historic 500,000 mark, but their growth has also put them under greater scrutiny. New rules had to be brought in to ensure that apprentices received real work-based learning, as training providers sought to meet targets by offering short, classroom-based programmes without employer involvement.
Apprenticeships have also changed as they have grown: from being a programme for young people, its largest constituency is now people aged over 25. Some are even in their sixties.
The government is currently considering plans for wide-ranging reforms, developed by entrepreneur Doug Richard, which are intended to simplify the system and to put employers in control of it. But however much apprenticeships are suffering from growing pains, they are still bigger and more important than ever.
See pages 20-21 and 32-34
APPRENTICESHIPS BY GENDER (2009-10)