Almost 370,000 apprenticeship applications were submitted online between February and April 2013 (Academic Year Q3 2012/13), according to new figures released today (31 May) by the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS). This represents growth of over 32% when compared to the same period last year.

Apprenticeship vacancies also witnessed significant growth. Over 32,600 vacancies were advertised online in the three months – an increase of almost 15% on the previous year. On 26 April, 17,700 live vacancies were available online – the highest number recorded.

Matthew Hancock MP, Skills Minister, said: "With more vacancies than ever before, apprenticeships are fast becoming the norm for young people who want to achieve their career goals through an alternative route to university. We want more employers to take advantage of the advice and support available from the NAS and consider how hiring an apprentice could benefit their business."

Two new guides to hiring an apprentice have been developed in response to Holts Group chief executive Jason Holt’s review of apprenticeships, and are designed to encourage employers – especially small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) – to take on an apprentice. Through, employers can access:

“It is vital that we do more to demonstrate how all employers can grow their own workforce through apprenticeships,” said Holt. “For smaller businesses, this is even more crucial as apprentices help improve productivity while reducing costs.”

David Way, executive director of the NAS, said: “The NAS aims to make it really easy for employers to hire an apprentice. The launch of these new online employer tools will further enhance the service we already offer employers – whatever their size and whatever their needs. For SMEs there is also the added incentive of £1,500 to assist them in the recruitment of apprentices.”

The Apprenticeships Index data also reveals the top five most popular apprenticeship types applied for and vacancies advertised in the quarter. Among the fastest growing apprenticeships, in terms of the percentage increase in vacancies advertised online, are vehicle sales (916% increase year-on-year), the power industry (840%), clinical healthcare support (608%), advanced engineering construction (428%) and leisure management (425%).

While arts, media and publishing and information communication technology were the most competitive sectors to apply for (with over 17 applications per vacancy), the most competitive individual subjects to apply for were plumbing and heating, bus and coach engineering/maintenance, animal care, health pharmacy services and construction specialist.

Other key highlights from the Q3 2012/13 data include: