This week is National Apprenticeship Week, which is an annual campaign to raise awareness of the benefits of apprenticeships for both employers and apprentices.

And to highlight how they can be a successful career path for people of all ages and backgrounds.

Each year, NAW has a different theme, with this year’s theme being: ‘Look Beyond’.

I think this theme is particularly apt as it encourages employers and potential apprentices to ‘look beyond’ the outdated myths surrounding apprenticeships and to have an open mind to the incredible opportunities that apprenticeships can bring.

I see first-hand the fantastic potential of apprenticeships when I attend the Annual Apprenticeship Awards at Swindon College.

Here I join a number of local employers to celebrate the hard work and achievements of their apprentices.

These employers included the NHS, local schools, Swindon Borough Council, construction and engineering companies, and many more.

Apprenticeships provide people of all ages and all social backgrounds with the chance to earn whilst they learn.

They aid social mobility and provide people with a foundation on which to build a successful career in their chosen profession.

The apprentices who received awards at Swindon College had earned qualifications in a broad range of industries: business administration, accounting, carpentry, housing, and health, to name a few.

Whilst for employers, apprenticeships can help close any skills gaps, provide fresh thinking, and increase productivity.

I am therefore pleased that we have seen a rise in the number of people opting for apprenticeships.

More than four million new apprenticeships have been created across the country since 2010, including over 12,000 apprenticeships in Swindon.

In fact, there were around 740,000 people participating in an apprenticeship in England during 2018/19.

There is real diversity in apprenticeships.

For example yesterday, I met Matthew Sculfor, an Inclusive Sports Apprentice, at the Stoke Manderville Stadium, home of Disability Sport.

He is part of Sport England’s funded work to boost disability sports inclusion and opportunities ahead of the Paralympic Games.

He will have a very bright future in the sports and leisure industry.

I was invited by the impressive WheelPower charity, and it was a real pleasure to see so many young disabled students showcasing their sporting potential.

Apprenticeships are a growing option for people of all ages.

Apprentices are securing real-life tangible skills, unlocking a new career across all areas.

I will continue to champion this vital career route.