Guidance on apprenticeships needs a “no-holds-barred” review, NUS president Toni Pearce has claimed despite official figures indicating application numbers rocketed more than 30 per cent last year.

She spoke out with statistics from the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) showing that 1.4 million applications were made online last year — an increase of 32 per cent on the previous year.

But NUS research suggests more promotion of vocational learning is needed, with, it claimed, more than 20 per cent of apprentices having never received information from a careers service.

And it claimed that more than 50 per cent of university students had never been presented with the apprenticeship opportunities available to them.

Further, respondents who received career information, advice and guidance (IAG) “frequently” reported it to be of a poor standard, with close to 50 per cent reporting it to be less than acceptable.

Miss Pearce said:“Education has changed, and the old route that ends with a three-year full-time undergraduate degree no longer needs to be norm.

“The lack of proper careers advice about the available study options and pathways to work is failing young people. Students need the information and tools to thrive, whatever their learning journey.

“We need a no-holds-barred review of IAG to ensure it is fit for purpose, fit for the twenty first century and fit the realities of students’ lives.”

The NUS said its research, which has come out less than a month before the expected publication of Ofsted’s review of IAG, showed the apprenticeship minimum wage of £2.65 an-hour, which is less than half that for those aged over 21 at £6.91, was a major deterrent for those who did look into apprenticeships. In total 886 people took part in the research survey. Of this 442 participated in the survey of apprentices and 444 participated in the survey of higher education students.

Nevertheless, NAS figures show that nearly 129,000 vacancies were posted online in 2012/13 compared to 101,000 in 2011/12 — a 27 per cent increase.

And each online vacancy attracted an average of 11 applications.

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said: “We want to see it become the norm that young people either go to university or into an apprenticeship.

“To match the growing popularity of apprenticeships, I would urge more employers to consider how hiring an apprentice could benefit their business.”

Jaine Bolton, NAS director, said: “These figures show that the demand for apprenticeships keeps growing.

“It is the first choice for many talented young people and more employers wanting young talent need to wake up to this fact.”

Among the fastest growing apprenticeships, in terms of the percentage increase in vacancies advertised online, were health optical retail (590 per cent increase year on year), vehicle sales (500 per cent) and facilities management (263 per cent).

Apprenticeships in the arts, media and publishing sector were most in demand during the past 12 months, with an average of 19 applications per vacancy.

The most competitive job areas were live events and promotion (35 applications per vacancy), plumbing and heating (33) and marine industry (28).

The data also reveals the top five most popular apprenticeship types applied for and vacancies advertised during 2012/13.

Mrs Bolton said: “With such strong demand for apprenticeships, it is vital that we encourage more employers to take advantage of the benefits that apprenticeships bring.

“With dedicated support from NAS and the 16 to 24 apprenticeship grant for small and medium businesses, there really has never been a better time to recruit an apprentice.

“That is why we are continuing to grow the range of opportunities that are available for potential apprentices.

“Apprenticeships increasingly reflect the exciting world of work and they now cover more than 1,500 job roles in 170 different industries, with qualifications up to degree level in many sectors.”