A West Yorkshire company which has been training apprentices for 80 years says it has seen an unprecedented surge in online applications for its 2014 intake.

Ilkley-based NG Bailey, a leading independent engineering, IT and facilities services group, has received more than 350 online applications within days of advertising its apprentice roles, due to start in September.

NG Bailey, which includes a building module manufacturing operation in Bradford, started training apprentices in 1934 and has since trained more than 5,000 people. The company spends about £3 million a year on apprenticeships and employee training and development.

The company unveiled the high response to its apprenticeship programme at the start of National Apprenticeship Week, which runs until Friday in order to raise awareness of training programmes. NG Bailey said the ‘earn and learn’ route is more popular than ever as an alternative to studying for a degree.

Mike Darlington, who joined NG Bailey as an apprentice 33 years ago and is now managing director of the engineering division, said: “On average, we receive 150 applications per place, so it’s more important than ever to stand out. I always wanted to prove myself and be the best; I instinctively knew that if I did a good job I would get on. That’s a common trait of all our apprentices.”

David Hurcomb, the company’s chief executive, added: “We always receive a huge amount of applications for our apprenticeship scheme, but early signs look like this year could be the most we’ve ever had. Focus is shifting and apprenticeship routes are definitely appealing to a larger number of youngsters.”

NG Bailey recruits an average of 30 new applicants a year in all areas of the business, including engineering, heating and ventilation and plumbing, as well as newer schemes such as facilities management and bids and proposals.

New research shows that 54 per cent of Bradford businesses plan to take on apprentices in the next five years – well ahead of the UK average of 36 per cent, according to the National Apprenticeship Service The study also revealed that nearly a third of Yorkshire businesses plan to take on one or more apprentices in the next 12 months, while 42 per cent of regional employers saying they are more likely to offer an apprenticeship now than two years ago.

Increasingly, firms’ approach to apprenticeships are filtering into supply chain selection criteria.