EAL, the awarding organisation for industry qualifications, has claimed that 2012 was a popular year for apprenticeships, as learners were put off higher education by the new tuition fee arrangements.

Ann Watson, managing director of EAL, has commented on recent figures from the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS), revealing a huge demand for the vocational pathway.

There were 1.13m applications through the NAS online database last year, for around 106,000 vacancies (around 80% of the total). Meanwhile, UCAS announced in their End of Cycle report 2012 that overall demand for higher education has fallen, with applications dropping by 6.6% to 653,600.

Watson said, “Demand for higher education weakened last year, when higher tuition fees were rolled-out, while apprenticeships went from strength to strength. While work still needs to be done, the public perception of apprenticeships is slowly shifting, aligning the vocational pathway with higher education as a valuable pathway into a fulfilling, highly skilled career. Manufacturing apprenticeships, in particular, proved extremely popular, with over 40,000 applications for 3,500 places advertised on the NAS database. This is the message EAL will be giving industry employers.

“The NAS figures reveal a huge gap in supply and demand – with applications far outweighing vacancies. More needs to be done to promote apprenticeships to employers, support them to take on apprentices, and make them aware of the support that is already available, such as grants for SMEs that have never taken on an apprentice or have not recruited one in the previous 12 months.

“As an awarding organisation, EAL works with our sector employers to ensure apprenticeships meet skills needs and are worthwhile for both learners and the businesses themselves. Apprenticeships are a highly effective recruitment tool, ensuring new employees have the exact skills and knowledge required for the job. We are working to promote the vocational pathway’s benefits to employers, learners, schools and parents. Working alongside these same groups, we must also ensure more apprenticeship opportunities are available as their popularity increases.”