The number of people starting apprenticeships in England this year has risen by more than 50% on last year, official figures show. There were 442,700 apprenticeships started in the academic year 2010-11 compared with 279,000 the previous year. Of these 175,000 were aged over 25, 138,900 aged 19 to 24 and 128,300 aged under 19. The government wants to see more degree-level apprenticeships. It set up a £25 million fund in July to support 10,000 more advanced level and higher apprenticeships in firms, particularly small businesses, where there are skills shortages.

A recent BBC survey suggested more young people were considering an apprenticeship as an alternative to university. Business Secretary Vince Cable said he was pleased that sectors like construction, manufacturing and engineering were continuing to back apprenticeships despite tough economic times. He added: 'The government will continue to improve and strengthen the apprenticeships programme to drive up standards, cut bureaucracy for smaller firms and deliver more advanced level a high tech training.' (BBC, 27th October 2011)

OPITO is one of the key organisations providing support for this approach. The focal point for the development of skills and learning for the oil and gas industry, it works in partnership with training providers to ensure the industry's major companies will have appropriately qualified workers.

As the industry faces increasingly difficult challenges of extracting oil and gas, it needs a continuing supply of a wide range of skills. There are various routes into the industry, both at school-leaver and graduate level. OPITO's Technician Training scheme runs apprenticeships for a range of engineering disciplines giving both practical and college-based learning. Graduates benefit from continuing professional development opportunities which provide the potential for long term career progression.

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