How many apprentices are there in West Dorset?

10? 100?

Actually, I discover that the answer for the 2011/12 academic year, is actually nearer to 1000 — 860, to be precise.

This is a rather encouraging situation. And we aren’t alone. It seems that Britain as a whole is at last beginning to catch up with Germany.

A record half a million people. (502,500) people started an apprenticeship last year. 502,500 people started an apprenticeship in 2011-12 — apparently, the first time ever that more than half a million people have started an apprenticeship in one year, and an 80 per cent increase compared to 2009-10.

Even more encouragingly, the highly skilled (so-called “Advanced” and “Higher” apprenticeships) have seen the biggest increases.  The number of people doing “Advanced” courses has doubled since 2009-10 , while the number starting a Higher (or degree-level) apprenticeship increased by 133 per cent over the same period.

This really is good news, because we desperately need to increase the number of people with high level practical skills if we are to compete effectively in the global race and provide rewarding jobs for our young people in Dorset and elsewhere — which is why a £25 million Higher Apprenticeships Fund has been established to support up to 10,000 degree-level apprenticeships in areas such as aerospace..

But of course many of our Dorset employers are small businesses. So it’s also good to hear that there are now cash bonuses for small companies taking on young apprentices. Employers with 50 employees or fewer can get up to £1,500 for taking on an apprentice aged between 16 and 24 this year. This will support up to 40,000 new apprenticeships in 2012/13.

All in all, this year looks set to be the year of the apprentice — about time, too.

Dorset Echo