There were nearly 330,000 adult apprenticeship starts in the first nine months of this academic year, Hayes told attendees at an apprenticeship summit hosted by manufacturers’ organisation the EEF this morning.
This figure represented 114,000 more apprentice places than last year, and would far exceed the coalition’s commitment to create an extra 50,000 opportunities in its first 12 months, he said.
“With this kind of growth I’m confident we will reach half a million,” explained Hayes. “We will have far more apprentices in Britain then we have ever had in our history – that is the scale of the pace of change.”
He said “latent demand in the system” had contributed to the rise in the number of programmes offered by employers.
“I always believed there was sufficient demand to make an early impact and I don’t think we have tapped all of that,” he said. “Business are increasingly recognising the need for advanced skills. In order to prosper we need to re-think the position of business and commerce, and how we can deliver greater productivity and guarantee more competitiveness.”
Hayes called for the social status of apprenticeships to be raised and said the government would be tackling the “aesthetics” of such learning pathways, adding that the nation had become “too apologetic about practical learning.”
“People have to feel that their successes and achievements are recognised and celebrated by themselves and their peers,” he continued. “We have taken that for granted in academic learning, which has retained many badges and emblems, and we want practical learning to have them too.”
“Developing graduation ceremonies, awards, apprentice alumni networks and the publication of results are all things we are looking at. It’s not a question of whether, it’s a question of when we do that.”
Hayes told delegates that apprenticeships “were rising up the political agenda” and called on employers to continue to invest in such qualifications.
Christine Gaskell, member of the board for personnel at Bentley Motors, told the conference that the car manufacturer was not only increasing the number of individuals it was training in engineering, but also in the fields of HR, finance, sales and marketing, and hospitality.
“Our ethos is to grow our own talent, which is why even through the difficult economic downturn we continued to invest in more apprenticeships than we had done in previous years,” she said.
“Social and practical skills are key factors to success, alongside the academic ability of individuals,” she continued. “Apprentices have the added advantage of a work ethic and business understanding that graduates don’t always have.”
She added that Bentley Motors had seen applications for its apprentice places treble last year, as school leavers sought out alternatives to further education – and the accompanying student debt.
But today’s summit did raise concerns about the continued difficulty in recruiting young people with sufficient maths and science knowledge into engineering apprenticeships; and questioned the collaboration between employers, educators and apprenticeship training providers.
Terry Scuoler, chief executive of the EEF, said that while the UK manufacturing and engineering sector was showing promising signs of economic growth, only seven per cent of all apprenticeships were in that sector – a number that was proving “stubborn and challenging” to increase.