Employment experts have hailed a rise in the number of apprenticeships in the built environment industry, togther with construction and planning.
Half yearly figures released by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills revealed 17,220 people started an apprenticeship in England between August 2011 and January 2012.
If this upward trend stays on course, 2011/12 could see the highest number of new apprentices for at least 10 years.
In 2010/11 28,090 people started an apprenticeship, 11 per cent more than the previous year. The highest number of new apprenticeships during that period were generated in the north west, at nearly 80,000.
Mike Bialyj, director of employer services at CITB ConstructionSkills said the figures were “encouraging”.
He added: “Our own figures as a managing agency mirror the stats release by BIS, we’ve seen a small but steady rise in our numbers over the last few years and aim to directly recruit 5,500 apprentices this year across Great Britain.
“Construction’s major employer groups have committed to taking on over 1,500 apprentices this year. We are delighted to see this shift as we have been working hard encouraging employers to take on apprentices to safeguard the future skills needs of their businesses.
“I think that employers are looking two or three years down the line and planning for the skills that they need to have in place when the market picks up. It also does reflect an increasingly optimistic outlook for the industry, just yesterday the ONS growth forecasts were revised upwards.”
Beatrice Orchard, co-ordinator of the Cross-Industry Construction Apprenticeship Task Force sounded a note of caution over the forecast for the rest of the year and said more needed to be done to pursuade employers to take on apprentices.
She said: “Last year’s increase in apprenticeship starts is good news for construction because recovery from the recession will require a strong skills base.
“Numbers for this academic year also appear to be heading in the right direction so far, but recent economic forecasts suggest the rest of 2012 will be hard going for many businesses so it’s too early to tell what this will mean for apprenticeship opportunities.
“There are more people looking for a construction apprenticeship than there are vacancies and so in order to really make a difference politicians must continue to make the businesses case for hiring an apprentice.
“The introduction of the £1,500 apprenticeship grant for small and medium-sized employers is definitely a positive step, but more than anything the government must pursue policies that support growth in the construction industry.”
In total, 256,500 people started an apprenticeship across all industries between August 2011 and January 2012, including 79,100 under-19-year-olds, 77,100 19-24-year-olds and 100,300 adults aged 25 or over.
Skills minister John Hayes said: “These increases are extremely encouraging and it is testament to the government’s unwavering commitment to apprenticeships.”
In his 2011 Budget, chancellor George Osborne pledged funds to boost the number of industry apprenticeships, amid fears of an increasing skills gap.
Last year a number of industry figures gave their support to a private member’s bill introduced by Labour MP Catherine McKinnell that would require some public procurement contracts to demand large firms provide apprenticeships and skills training.
The bill is awaiting its next reading in the House of Commons.