APPRENTICE numbers signing up through Oxford and Cherwell Valley College have shot up.

The college has enrolled its 1,000th apprentice just three months into the school year – last year the total number matched with employers was 1,100.

Now the college, working with more than 500 local employers, is on course to enrol 1,500 apprentices onto one of the 68 different apprenticeships it offers by the end of the academic year.

That’s an increase of about 36 per cent.

Director of business support Peter Reynolds said: “The number is growing by the day.

“Businesses, particularly small and medium-sized employers, are seeing investing in apprentices as an investment in the future.

“And there is definitely more interest from young people in wanting to be an apprentice across all areas.”

In some cases businesses had someone in mind they hoped to apprentice, and looked to the college to provide the education side of the programme, while others sought help from the college with interviewing and recruitment of appropriate candidates.

The college has taken on 15 additional members of staff to deal with the influx, and there are about 50 young people on the college’s waiting list hoping to start apprenticeships once an appropriate employer can be found.

The average waiting time for those who are ‘job-ready’ is four to six weeks.

Mr Reynolds said: “We are certainly seeing greater demand than we have ever seen and there are a variety of reasons.

“University fees and loans are a factor, and there has been a lot of promotion and publicity about this being a really valid route to a fantastic job in the future.”

The 1,000th apprentice is Tom Booker, from Abingdon, who is completing a two-year apprenticeship in general maintenance with Amey’s fleet solutions division in Sutton Courtenay.

He is following in the footsteps of his father, Andy, who started out as an apprentice fitter 38 years ago and is now safety critical technical advisor.

Tom, 18, said: “I wanted to gain a trade as you’re actually earning and being able to build on that in the future, “As my dad’s working for Amey, he’s put in good feedback so once I saw the job come up, I thought it was a good thing to go for.”

Tom spends four days a week at Amey, learning painting and decorating, plumbing and carpentry, and one day studying at the Oxpens Road campus.

Prior to taking up the apprenticeship he was studying for a sport and science diploma at Abingdon and Witney College.

He said: “I have always liked learning new things and working in a practical way.

“It’s different to being at college all week but in a good way and I think I am learning more.”

Ultimately he hopes to become a facilities manager for Amey.

College principal Sally Dicketts said: “In a difficult employment market, apprenticeships enable people to earn as they develop experience in their chosen industry and gain vital qualifications at the same time.”