A Surrey County Council challenge to fill 500 apprentice places in a year has smashed its target two months early.

Council leader David Hodge revealed that nearly 540 young people have landed apprentice roles since last April as part of three schemes run by the council.

Businesses hired more than 410 apprentices through a cash incentive initiative, the council took on a further 100 young people and contractors filled around 25 places.

The apprentice places covered such areas as administration, retail and carpentry in the cash incentive scheme, youth work, social care and customer services in the county council scheme, and catering and administration places with contractors.

Now, the council has stated that with firms “rushing to sign up” for the cash incentive scheme, it is aiming to fill 500 more apprentice roles by next April.

The council stated its new aim after its Cabinet agreed to invest another £750,000 in boosting young people’s job prospects.

The apprenticeship drive is part of the council’s push to stimulate economic growth, which has also seen the number of young people in the county not in education, employment or training – so-called NEETs – cut by more than half.

Latest annual figures have shown the number of new Surrey apprentices aged 19 to 24 swelled by nearly 8.5% to more than 2,200.

Coun Hodge said: “Reaching this 500 milestone in less than ten months is fantastic news and a great boost for young people getting on the first rung of the career ladder, which is why we’ve set a goal of filling 500 more apprentice places in a year.”

He continued: “Whether it’s in construction, retail or social care with the county council, we’re doing all we can to help young people into the world of work, because apprenticeships equip them with the skills they require, give businesses the workforce they need to thrive and help the economy grow.”