Supermarkets have significantly contributed to a rise in retail employees achieving vocational qualifications in the past year.

The number of retail apprenticeships achieved in the past academic year has risen 13% to 3,400, while the number of S/NVQs awarded is up 15% to 152,000, according to education foundation Edge. Companies including Waitrose, Sainsbury's and Tesco all invested in vocational qualifications such as apprenticeships during the period.

"Recognising and rewarding employees' progress at work is extremely important to Tesco," said Tesco HR director Hayley Tatum.

"Our apprenticeship programme has led to improved retention rates, motivating staff who are able to provide excellent service to customers and improved business performance."

Sainsbury's has also pledged to help 7,000 of its staff work towards a job-related qualification this year and have an apprentice in each main store by 2010.

"Businesses are using vocational qualifications to respond to changing needs and vocational qualifications are helping people of all ages," said Andy Powell, chief executive of Edge. "In just a year, the vocational landscape has changed dramatically. At a time when we're fighting the effects of a worldwide recession and the country is debating how the UK can emerge strongly from the downturn, improving skills has to be a top priority."