Doubling of apprentice numbers given cautious welcome by business groups

Business groups have broadly welcomed government plans to double the number of apprentices to 500,000 a year by 2020, but have called for reform of the system to raise the status of those gaining qualifications under the scheme.

Skills secretary John Denham has published a report, World Class Apprenticeships: Unlocking Talent, Building Skills for All, which sets out a wide range of steps which aim to improve apprenticeships in the future. These include setting up a National Apprenticeship Service to oversee the programme, and creating a ‘matching service’ to help employers fill apprenticeship vacancies.

CBI deputy director-general John Cridland said: “We need more young people taking on-the-job training and gaining qualifications that provide access to exciting and well-paid careers, as well as delivering skills that business need to compete.

“But the focus must be on quality as well as quantity. Reform of the apprenticeship system is vital, otherwise the relevance and status of apprenticeships will suffer and more employers will not get involved.”

Manufacturers’ organisation the EEF called for a “speedy implementation” of the proposals if the 2020 deadline was to be met.

Chairman Martin Temple said: “In tandem with the expansion of apprenticeships, we must ensure that the careers guidance young people receive provides adequate information on their benefits along with more radical action to encourage employers to establish new apprenticeship schemes.”

The TUC said it was disappointed the government had ignored the issue of low pay for apprentices.

“Although the poorest paid apprentices, often young women, are now protected from the worst ravages of exploitation by an £80 wage floor, this has not increased since August 2005. Rising prices mean this is effectively a pay cut,” said general secretary Brendan Barber.

“The government could further boost the quality of apprenticeships, make them more attractive to young people and improve completion rates by increasing the wage floor to £110.”

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