The government could be on track to meet its target of 3m new apprenticeship starts by 2020, according to provisional Skills Funding Agency (SFA) statistics for the first quarter of 2015/16.

To hit the 3m target in the next five years there needs to be an average of 600,000 apprenticeship starts per year, or 150,000 per quarter — and the latest Statistical First Release provisionally shows 153,100 new starts for the first quarter of 2015/16, from August to October.

This is a 4 per cent increase on last year’s provisional figures, with 5,600 more starts. The greatest increase was in intermediate level apprenticeships among the under 19s, with 3,000 more starts recorded.

In contrast, the greatest decrease was in intermediate level apprenticeships for the 19-24 age group, with the number of starts decreasing by 2,300, or 5 per cent, compared to provisional statistics for the first quarter of 2014/15.

However, though the statistics look on track for the government’s 3m target, the final figures could call this success into question. Last year’s final figures showed the first quarter to carry the most new starts at 163,600 – subsequent quarters brought lower figures, resulting in total new starts of 499,900 for the year.

The figures for apprenticeship framework starts are in contrast to those for the new apprenticeship standards, which saw just 700 starts.

Skills Minister Nick Boles said: “Young people today have more doors open to them than ever before. Today’s figures show that savvy young people see apprenticeships as a fast-track to a successful career. Apprenticeships are real jobs that combine studying with hands on experience in the workplace.

“Apprenticeships and traineeships are creating the highly skilled and productive workforce that is supporting our country’s economic growth. We are on the right track to delivering 3m apprenticeships by 2020.”

The provisional figures also showed an increase in the number of new traineeship starts, with 7,600 starts recorded in the first quarter of 2015/16, compared to only 5,000 for the previous year. And the growth could well continue with news, reported yesterday by FE Week, that restrictions limiting who can deliver traineeships were to be lifted next month rather than from August.