Six years after it was first conceived, National Apprenticeship Week has become about so much more than just raising awareness of alternative pathways. This year’s will be the biggest and best yet, says David Way

It seems incredible that we are celebrating the sixth National Apprenticeship Week.

As in previous years, it will provide a great opportunity to showcase the best apprenticeships, apprentices and employers, and will put work-based training in the limelight.

It promises to be the biggest and best yet, with more than 500 events (and counting) taking place around England.

Thanks are due to those who have got behind this. It is only through this collective effort that we get the attention of millions and gain the opportunity to highlight the value of apprenticeships and how they change lives.

When the event was first conceived, its purpose was simply to raise awareness of apprenticeships.

We are well beyond that now, with the breadth of events demonstrating just how far we have come: for example, apprenticeships are now breaking down barriers to professions once seen as the preserve of graduates and creating fresh opportunities to go right to the top whether it is in a local business or a global company.

The preparatory work that we have carried out ahead of the week makes clear that apprenticeships are still very newsworthy. They tell stories about real people whose achievements often go well beyond anything they first expected.

I hope the week will also bring more people up to date with the occupations now available in new and emerging sectors, such as professional services, banking and the creative industries, and at higher levels in vital sectors such as engineering.

We must not forget the growing number of small employers taking on apprentices”

The theme of this year’s week is ‘Apprenticeships deliver’. We want to showcase the achievements of apprentices and their employers, and to demonstrate how apprenticeships really are transforming lives and improving business.

Our evidence about boosting productivity, employment prospects and income needs to be got across – as do our many examples of successful businessmen and women who started as apprentices.

There is no shortage of events, including business breakfasts hosted by premier league football clubs, apprenticeship buses touring cities and regions, and major conferences, including our own fourth international conference.

Previous National Apprenticeship Weeks have shown that the most powerful advocates of the benefits of apprenticeships  are the apprentices themselves.

They are our principal ambassadors, which is why this year we are putting them in the spotlight.

There will be apprentice ‘job swaps’ between some of our apprenticeship award-winners and their chief executives for the day, while in  #247 Apprentice, a selection of apprentices will use various forms of social media to report on their working day.

But my personal favourite will be a national ‘Made by Apprentices’ campaign to showcase the talent of the nation’s apprentices and the contribution that they make to the economy.

Many large employers will be showcasing their programmes during the week, but we must not forget the growing number of small employers taking on apprentices.

I have been delighted with the increasing number of small employers taking up the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers of £1,500.

Such has been its popularity, the government has decided to extend the grant until Christmas 2013.

‘Bring back apprentices’ used to be the cry.  National Apprenticeship Week is the opportunity to show not only that they are back, but that they are working for business and for the talented young people wanting a great start to their working lives.

David Way, chief operating officer of the National Apprenticeship Service