Next week's Apprenticeship Week will see apprentices, employers, providers and all those involved with apprenticeship programmes come together to celebrate the value of this vocational route.
As well as changing the lives of millions, apprenticeships have also proved they have the power to provide a major boost to many businesses and bring significant benefits to the UK economy.
The number of people starting an apprenticeship in England has risen to 240,000 in 200809 from 65,000 in 199697. The number successfully completing one continues to rise at an impressive pace, with completion rates at an all-time high of 71 per cent in 200809, compared with 37 per cent in 200405.
This means that during these tough times more young people and adults are being given the chance to earn while they learn and gain recognised qualifications. More businesses benefit from the way apprenticeships can address their skills gaps.
Now we must build on our successes. The Government, the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS), employers and providers are working to maximise the benefits. Since last year's Apprenticeship Week we have made significant progress.
In April 2009, NAS invited bids for a share of a pound;7 million pot to fund 15 new Apprenticeship Training Agencies. They will find new approaches to help small businesses to take on apprentices and are expected to deliver up to 15,000 places per year by 201415.
The Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 has enshrined in law our commitment to boost the quality and quantity and expand the reach of apprenticeships.
In December, the new Specification of Apprenticeship Standards in England (SASE) set out the minimum requirements for all English apprenticeships frameworks. Compliance with the SASE will be a statutory requirement by April 2011.
This year will be about building on these achievements and ensuring that our plans are put into action. As announced in the national Skills for Growth strategy, we will be working to increase dramatically the number of advanced apprenticeships, creating up to 35,000 new places for 19- to 30- year-olds over the next two years. We have also committed pound;5 million to develop new frameworks at levels 3 and 4 and offer 1,000 new scholarships worth pound;1,000 each to encourage the best apprentices to progress to higher education.
Government is making real progress in using its pound;220 billion-a-year procurement programme to open up skills and apprenticeship opportunities, including Olympics park development and the Homes and Communities Agency's pound;5 billion-a-year house-building investment budget. The aim is to secure 20,000 apprenticeship places over the next three calendar years using the power of public procurement.
This work will ensure that we are well on our way to meeting the 2013 pledge that apprenticeships will be available to all suitably qualified young people that want to undertake one.
Next week, as we celebrate our successes so far and reaffirm our commitment to apprenticeships, we must also use the opportunity to extend their reach and promote them to those who have not realised the power they have to help us reach our potential - as individuals, businesses and as a country.
Kevin Brennan, Minister for further education, skills, apprenticeships and consumer affairs.