In England, 100 per cent. of Learning and Skills Council funded apprentices must spend a significant period of their learning in a work-based environment in employment in order to complete a full apprenticeship. In addition, some learners participate in programme led apprenticeships in preparation for full apprenticeships. PLAs enable learners to take some of the required apprenticeship qualifications, such as key skills, in a further education college or with another provider before taking up employment as an apprentice. In 2005-06, 24,580 learners, 12.3 per cent. of the combined total of 199,480 PLA and apprenticeship starts, started a programme led apprenticeship and 174,900 or 87.7 per cent. started an apprenticeship in employment.
The apprenticeship programme has been extremely successful with the number of apprentices in learning rising threefold since 1997 and now standing at some 250,000. Quality has also improved, with the completion rate now standing at almost 60 per cent., up from just 24 per cent. five years ago. As a result, the apprenticeship programme is recognised as the principal route for acquiring nationally recognised, high quality occupational skills which contribute to the strength of our economy. We now want to build on that success by expanding the programme further so that in 2013 any suitably qualified young person will be entitled to an apprenticeship place. In addition we have accepted the recommendation of the Leitch review of skills for a target of 500,000 apprentices in learning in the UK by 2020.