The number of young people starting apprenticeships has risen by 16.7% since last year, according to the Learning and Skills Council (LSC).
The LSC’s latest figures indicate a total of 176,631 16- to 21-year-olds have joined apprenticeship schemes in 2003-04, compared with 151,363 in the previous year. The increase has beaten the government’s annual target of 175,000.
The number of drop-outs has also fallen. Almost 40% of apprentices completed their course in 2003-04, compared with just 24% in 2001-02.
The drive to increase the number of apprentices in the manufacturing and engineering sector was thought to be a contributing factor in the figures.
But the UK is still lagging behind its European counterparts. An industry taskforce, led by Sir Roy Gardner, chairman of gas and electricity supplier Centrica, advised the government that apprenticeship completion rates should be raised to at least 60% to compete with countries such as Denmark and Germany.
Education secretary Ruth Kelly admitted the UK still had a “mountain to climb” to catch up with its international competitors.