THE number of apprenticeships available in Bracknell Forest is falling while demand continues to soar.

Figures released by the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) show that between February and April 2013, 360 people applied for an apprenticeship - up 50 per cent on the same period last year.

But that 360 found themselves fighting to secure one of just 38 vacancies - a 15% drop on last year.

Peter Smith, of the Bracknell Chamber of Commerce, told the News he was shocked by the figures and said: "I'm just a bit surprised. Campbell Christie [principal at Bracknell and Wokingham College] has been going out to businesses and asking them what they want, trying to provide the apprenticeships that people are demanding." But Mr Smith admitted that there is a missing link between what businesses need and what potential apprentices are looking for.

"Sometimes there's a discrepancy between what's being offered and what people think is being offered - it's about trying to improve that communication," he said. "The college is working very hard to bridge that gap.

"Campbell is trying to get as much information as possible. Part of the difficulty is getting the interest of the business community as well." Mr Smith said that helping provide a further link to connect apprentices and companies is possibly something the Chamber could explore.

NAS executive director David Way said apprenticeships should be encouraged throughout the country.

"They are a great way for young people and adult learners to earn while they learn in a real job, gaining a real qualification and setting them on the road to success in their chosen career," he said.

"For employers, hiring apprentices is a way of attracting new talent and developing a motivated, skilled and diverse workforce." In nearby Wokingham, 560 applications were submitted -an increase of more than three quarters (75 per cent) compared to last year.

Vacancies in the borough were up by 44 per cent, offering 72 places.

Across the Thames Valley, more than 11,140 forms were filled out by potential apprentices, and the most popular courses were business and administration, childcare, customer services and IT.

The industries with the most vacancies for apprentices in the Thames Valley are plumbing and heating, software engineers and electricians. Nationally, the most popular day to apply was Monday, March 18, when 6,730 applications were made in 24 hours.

Jason Holt, entrepreneur and author of the Holt Review, said: "It is vital that we do more to demonstrate how all employers can grow their own workforce through apprenticeships.

"For smaller businesses, this is even more crucial as apprentices help improve productivity." To find out more about apprenticeships, see or call 0800 0150 600.