This year has been another significant year in the expansion of Apprenticeships in England. With more than two million Apprenticeship starts since 2010 and higher numbers of people on Apprenticeships than ever before, 2013 has been a triumph. It is therefore worthy of some reflection.
My ten highlights of the year are:
1) The Queen's Speech
During the opening of Parliament the Queen highlighted the importance of Apprenticeships by saying that we will take steps to ensure that it becomes typical for those leaving school to start a Traineeship, an Apprenticeship or go to university. We want this to become the new norm and this desire has run like a thread through the past year.
2) Apprenticeships Reform
This important work stretched directly to a significant reform in the way that Apprenticeships will be delivered, which we announced in October. The Government's response to the Richard Review and the launch, by the Prime Minister, of the Trailblazers programme will set up Apprenticeships for further growth in the future.
Through this programme, groups of companies, including BMW Group UK, have come together to give industry the power to lead the design of new Apprenticeships. These reformed Apprenticeships will be rigorous, responsive and will be graded.
3) National Apprenticeship Week
With almost 1,000 events exhibiting everything apprentices have to offer this was an important week. Jenny Westworth, the Apprentice of the Year and I, had a very early start to visit the hard working apprentices at Billingsgate market so they could show us the skills of their trade. Meanwhile the Prime Minister reaffirmed the pledge that he wanted to make Apprenticeships a new norm for ambitious young people and we launched a #madebyapprentices campaign with his support.
The challenge for everyone passionate about Apprenticeships is to help make National Apprenticeship Week 2014 bigger and better than 2013!
4) Higher apprentices "most employable" young people
The more we can raise the profile of Apprenticeships the greater the benefits for both learners and employers. We know only too well that the employers we work with value their Apprentices - the fact that two-thirds of Apprentices stay with the same employer after finishing their Apprenticeship is testament to this. But what we also learned this year was that all employers' value the skills apprentices learn. In fact, according to independent research, apprentices were rated as 15 per cent more employable than peers with other qualifications.
5) Small business focus
Skills are a benefit that can be shared by everyone. In 2013 Apprenticeships saw an increased focus on encouraging small and medium sized businesses to hire apprentices. Entrepreneur Jason Holt was appointed as an official Apprenticeships Ambassador, championing Apprenticeships to small and medium sized businesses.
The AGE 16-24 Grant for SMEs hiring their first apprentices was further extended - and some local authorities have provided match funding to double the Grant to £3,000 per apprentice hired. And with new figures out showing that former apprentices are now heading into the boardroom, we hope even more employers of all sizes will back Apprenticeships in 2014.
6) Apprenticeship Awards
The Awards are always a highlight of the calendar and this year was no exception. It is always exciting to see the passion and enthusiasm our award winners demonstrate. For me, the Awards did more than any other event to showcase the breadth and depth of Apprenticeships available.
There are over 100,000 employers offering Apprenticeships across 170 different industries. And this was reflected in the finalists shortlist and the eventual winners.
7) Traineeships roll out
With Apprenticeships reaching higher and higher quality the challenge to secure a place on one is getting tougher. Traineeships have been rolled out to help more young people prepare for work or an Apprenticeship through an education and training programme with work experience that is focused on giving young people the skills and experience that employers are looking for. At its core are work preparation training, English and maths for those who need it, and a high quality work experience placement.
While we spent the year designing Traineeships and Apprenticeships that will give people the skills they need to develop a career we also gained commitment from groups of companies to help us structure reformed Apprenticeships. These Trailblazers, will focus on important areas such as aerospace, automotive, digital industries, electro-technical, energy, financial services, food and drink, and life and industrial sciences. This will mean that all Apprenticeships will contain the relevant skills that respond directly to the needs of the employer.
9) New Apprenticeship vacancies feed
Up-to-the-minute Apprenticeship vacancies have been made available since July for media, colleges, training providers and partners to embed on their websites.
This feed has been designed to provide the sector with more opportunities to help spread the word about how Apprenticeships help young people and adult learners earn while they learn in a real job, gaining a real qualification and a real future. The tool, Av Live, can be easily tailored to show Apprenticeship vacancies by job role, provider, location and other search options.
10) My Job Swap
My final highlight of the year is one that gave me a real insight into what it is to be an apprentice, and also helped one apprentice understand what it is to be a Government Minister. Jenny Westworth, the Apprentice of the Year and I took part in a Job Swap. On the first leg, we began at Billingsgate Market and learnt how to prepare fish, before taking part in departmental meetings with the Secretary of State, a meeting with the Prime Minister and an interview with Newsnight. On the second leg, Jenny was in charge and I saw first hand the high-tech, highly skilled work that she takes part in at BAE in Preston.
A final highlight of 2013 was when, in July, The Huffington Post became the first national news outlet to create a dedicated section for Apprenticeships on their site. With case studies and opinion pieces from partners, apprentices and employers, the section really brings to life how Apprenticeships benefit businesses and help individuals earn while they learn while gaining a real qualification, a real job and a real future.
If 2013 was a vital (and busy) year for Apprenticeships, 2014 will be just as important and the government, working with partners and the National Apprenticeship Service will be on hand to provide the support and advice employers need to grow their own talent through Apprenticeships.
For more information visit apprenticeships.org.uk