21/03/2013 11:35 GMT | Updated 21/05/2013 06:12 BST

Beyond National Apprenticeship Week

With National Apprenticeship Week 2013 just behind us, it's a perfect time to reflect on the success that Apprenticeships have enjoyed over the past few years. Apprenticeships are becoming ever more popular, with both employers and learners attracted to the excellent career prospects they provide. Half a million apprentices have begun their training during the last year, over a million applications were made on the Apprenticeship vacancies online system run by the National Apprenticeship Service. It's a trend that we hope will only increase with the Prime Minister's call for Apprenticeships to become 'the new normal' and the advent of Level 4 Apprenticeships, which lead to a qualification equivalent to a Foundation Degree.

Yet Apprenticeships are just one part of the huge range of qualifications and courses available through further education (FE). On Twitter, the hashtag #fe4me has shared just some of the stories of those who have benefited from taking a course either aged 16-19, as an adult returning to education, or through a work-based learning programme. Further education offers a huge range of options for whatever stage of their career or life people have reached. It delivers real economic benefits to the individuals involved and the country as a whole.

There have been a number of studies to assess these benefits and quantify how FE helps the UK economy. There are now over 250 types of Apprenticeships available from engineering to law, and from working in a classroom to becoming cabin crew for an airline. They help people to get into work and to progress in their careers. But FE reaches even further than that. A recent research study commissioned by the Department for Business Industry and Skills (BIS) concluded there are large and significant economic benefits associated with undertaking and completing learning and training, whatever your age.

The study showed dramatic findings. A third of men (35%) and almost the same proportion of women (29%) showed they had got a better job as a direct result of their further education learning. More than one in five people (22%) who undertook work-based learning saw an increase in salary as a result. And almost half of those surveyed (44%) found they achieved better job security, had improved their future pay and promotion potential, and now had a job with greater responsibilities. That personal and professional growth is a crucial element of the FE story.

Many people don't realise how broad the reach of FE is. Every year, 3 million people are involved in further education, and it's something that businesses are increasingly waking up to as well. A study by the FE and Skills Communication Group showed that half of decision-makers in small and medium sized business have taken an FE qualification, with 45% of those keen to take another qualification in the future.

Not bad for a sector that's often not as visible as school or university! Satisfaction levels with FE are high, and in my regular visits to colleges and employers I'm lucky to be able to see first hand how further education helps people of all ages to progress, both in work and in life through increased skills and confidence.

If you're either an employer, or someone who thinks they may benefit from further education, there are lots of ways you can get involved. To find out more about Apprenticeships visit or call the National Apprenticeship Service on 08000 150 600. To explore other possible further education options for your business, you can review the Course Directory on the National Careers Service website at or contact them on over the telephone on 0800 100 900. The website Which Way Now can provide helpful pointers in the right direction as well.