Last week Business Secretary Vince Cable hailed new figures which show that the number of people starting apprenticeships has doubled in two years.
Anyone aged 16 or over and not in full-time education can apply for an apprenticeship. In the 2011/12 academic year, 520,600 people started an apprenticeship, an increase of 13.9% on the preceding year, and an 86.1% since 2009/10 (this is in fact just short of doubling).
While this would seem to be good news for the Government, there is in fact some doubt over how much credit it can claim for the bounce. As we found last time we reported on the topic, much of the increase seems to stem from Labour's decision in 2009 to expand the scheme to over 25-year-olds.
According to the Office for National Statistics, between 2009/10 and 2010/11, apprenticeship numbers for over 25s grew by 270% (from 49,100 to 182,100) - much higher than the rate of growth in other categories, such as for 19 to 24-year-olds (26% - from 113,800 to 143,400) and for 16 to 18-year-olds (12.7% - from 116,800 to 131,700).
So how are things fairing now?
According to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills' (BIS) Statistical Release there have been 161,400 apprenticeships starts by 19—24 year olds, a 12.5% increase on 2010/11. Apprenticeship numbers for over 25s also grew by 25.9% with 229,300 over-25s starting apprenticeships.
But in the case of under-19s, there's been a drop on 2010-11. Only 130,000 started apprenticeships. In the first quarter of 2012-13, this figure fell by seven per cent.
So have recent years been an unqualified success for apprenticeship schemes? One potential sore spot has been that while there has definitely been an increase in uptake among young people, this doesn't necessarily mean that more are getting qualifications, as some drop out before completing them.
However we can see from the graph below that achievement numbers have been steadily rising too, based on the latest set of figures.
What we do note however is that for the first time in 2011/12, achievement rates fell across all age groups. In previous years they had been ever so slightly rising.
For under 19s - one of the groups of most concern given the declining recruitment numbers - success rates fell by 6.5 per cent compared to 2010/11.
By all accounts, the rise in apprenticeship numbers is good news, but such success has not been evenly distributed. As we have seen the growth is largely driven by apprentices aged over 25. Achievement rates across all age groups also remain a cause for concern.
Flickr image courtesy of National Assembly For Wales / Cynulliad Cymru