Boosting exports and improving skills levels in professional firms are the key priorities of the government’s industrial strategy for professional and business services, published today.

The 48-page document, from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, highlights the importance of broadening higher apprenticeship routes in the professions, in particular the possibility of ‘opening up a new route to becoming a qualified solicitor’.

‘These HAs will provide equivalent opportunities and should have parity of esteem to graduate entry,’ the report says. ‘The ability to reach partner status through the vocational route will transform perceptions about the value of apprenticeships more generally.’

BIS wants to treble the number of higher apprenticeships in the sector - which is defined as including accountancy, management consultancy and architecture, as well as legal services - to 10,000 starts in five years’ time.

The report goes on to stress that trade agreements provide an opportunity to open up new markets. It cites with approval the EU-Korea Free Trade Agreement, where the agreement set out a timetable for the opening up of the Korean legal services market to EU providers.

Commenting on the report, Rhian Kelly, CBI director for business environment, said: ‘This strategy recognises we cannot stand still if we want our professional and business services to retain their world-leading status.Increasing the number of higher apprenticeships could help businesses access the wider pool of talent they need to stay on top, as will making the most of trade missions and business leaders to sell the sector overseas.’