The high street giant is to employ 1,000 apprentices through a major new training initiative, the retailer has announced.

The company, which has 550 stores and 40,000 employees, said that its retail apprenticeship programme represented a significant investment in its workforce.

The organisation hopes to promote the retail sector as a career, dispel the stereotype that it is a low-skilled industry, and challenge the assumption that apprenticeships exist only in engineering or manufacturing.

Simon Wolfson, Next’s chief executive, said the scheme’s key objective was to train recruits to perform well in their roles, so they would ultimately choose to pursue a career in retail.

“You don’t have to have an academic background to succeed in retail,” Lord Wolfson told The Independent. “This is about getting away from the idea that you need a degree to have a successful career. We hope to show that someone trained from the age of 17 without a degree can succeed.”

The company will recruit 1,000 candidates from across the country to undertake an intensive six-month programme culminating in a Level 2 apprenticeship qualification, consisting of a diploma in retail plus a certificate in retail knowledge and key literacy and numeracy skills.

The launch of the Next Retail Apprentice Programme was welcomed by the government, which has overseen a rise in apprenticeship numbers by 113,000 over the past year.

Skills minister John Hayes said the training pledge by the retailer “marked another important milestone.”

“The commitment by Next to train 1,000 young people using modern apprenticeships is great news and shows the flexibility and versatility of the apprenticeship,” he said.

“This form of training has been long established in manufacturing, with recent schemes announced at leading companies like Jaguar Land Rover and defence contractor Thales.”

Next’s programme has been developed in collaboration with Pera Training, with the backing of the National Apprenticeship Service.

Richard Grice, managing director of Pera Training, said that the apprenticeship scheme had been successfully piloted earlier this year after Next decide to boost its training offering.

“Next already had a well developed training programme but wanted to move this to the next level, with formal accreditation and a nationally recognised programme. A modern apprenticeship does exactly this,” Grice added.