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The number of people starting apprenticeships has continued to rise, with particularly strong growth in advanced and higher level qualifications, official figures have confirmed.Between August 2011 and April this year, 383,200 people started an apprenticeship, while 1,374,000 participated in Skills for Life courses to boost their basic skills.“The growth in apprenticeships is really welcome news,” said skills minister John Hayes. “The Government has put apprenticeships at the heart of our skills policy because they equip people with the skills they need for a prosperous future and provide businesses with the expertise they need to grow.“As we look to rebalance our economy, it is particularly encouraging to see an increase in the number of apprentices in the engineering and manufacturing sector. At the same time as increasing the number of apprenticeships, I have been relentless in my commitment to quality – striving to ensure that every apprenticeship is as good as the best.”It was fears over quality that led ministers to set a minimum length of 12 months for apprenticeships earlier this year. Apprenticeships are a key plank of the government’s strategy for youth skills, with 68 per cent of participants under the age of 24.However, in parallel figures released yesterday, it was revealed that the proportion of 16-18 year olds not in education, employment or training (Neet) has rose last year, from 7.5 per cent in 2010 to 8.1 per cent in 2011. Overall, 154,710 young people are in this position. The increase comes despite the government’s stated intention for all under-18s to be participating in either education or training by 2015.