07/02/2012 17:00 GMT | Updated 07/02/2012 17:06 GMT

David Cameron: Apprenticeships No Longer A 'Poor Man's Degree'

Apprenticeships will no longer be considered a "poor man's degree" with the introduction of higher-level training, the prime minister said on Tuesday.

Combining apprenticeships with higher education will become far more common place in Britain, David Cameron said.

Speaking during a visit to the Tunnelling and Underground Construction Academy (TUCA) in east London, which trains apprentices to work on infrastructure projects, Cameron said: "We are expanding the number of higher level apprenticeships, those that involve degree-level courses and I think this is vital because for years people have sort of said that apprenticeships are the poor relation of higher education.

"I don't think they are at all and I think what we are going to see with the expansion of the higher level apprenticeships is many people going into them as they leave school, spending time doing that and then going on and doing a university degree linked to their apprenticeship skill.

"That is what has happened for years in Germany and it is going to be happening much more in Britain."

In a blog for Huffington Post UK to mark National Apprenticeship Week, Cameron reiterated the government's commitment to young people.

"Apprenticeships are right at the heart of the kind of economy we want to build: one where many more young people have the chance to learn a proper trade; where we have a highly-skilled workforce; where we're not just borrowing and spending huge amounts but really earning our way, making and selling the goods the world wants to buy. Apprenticeships are a vital thread running through this vision," he wrote.

Cameron said academies like TUCA, a purpose-built not-for-profit facility built by Crossrail to train people in working in tunnel excavation, underground construction and infrastructure, was crucial to the future of the country.

"I think we are seeing a really big part of the industrial future of Britain," he said.

"I think for years in our country we have had excellent higher education, excellent university education but we haven't put nearly enough into vocational education, apprenticeships, into skills training and what I've seen today shows me this is absolutely at the cutting edge of what we need to do as a country.

He added "I think for years people have said this country hasn't taken skills seriously, it hasn't taken apprenticeships seriously and I really think that we are now doing that."

Cameron said the Government was committed to addressing some of the "historic weakness" of apprenticeship programmes and would reduce the cost and bureaucracy involved in apprenticeships to encourage more businesses to participate.

He added that with the HS2 and Thames Tunnel the skills they were learning would be put to good use in other projects that were "coming down the track".