Prime minister Gordon Brown has called on businesses to keep supporting apprenticeships and internship schemes during the recovery.
Speaking at the CBI annual conference in London today, Brown urged employers to keep supporting the Backing Young Britain campaign and take on new apprentices where they could.
His appeals come after provisional government figures for 2008-09 showed the number of under-25s starting apprenticeships has fallen by about 10%.
Brown said: “I ask each an every one of you to continue to support and helping to create and grow apprenticeships, internships and new opportunities for young people.
“I would urge you and encourage you to follow up the good work you have done and take on, where you can, new internships as well as apprentices and people with skilled qualifications.
“Our home-grown talent and skills must provide our businesses with a pipeline of skilled workers, the workers they need to compete with the world economy.”
He insisted that the government was now funding more apprenticeships than ever before, despite the recession, with a quarter of a million places having been created this year.
Brown added that advanced apprenticeships would be used to help address skills shortages across the country, particularly in construction and engineering.
But the Conservative Party leader, David Cameron, said much more focus was needed on vocational education than the government was providing.
Speaking at the same conference, he said the diploma scheme “had not taken off” and accused the government of “trying to muddle up academic and vocational” training.
He reiterated the Conservatives’ pledge to create 12 technical schools in the UK’s 12 biggest cities, which he said would “plug the gaps in British education”.
The Train to Gain budget had not been well spent, and this money could be put to better use providing more direct funding for apprenticeships, Cameron added.
He also repeated the Tories’ policy of cutting Whitehall budgets by a third, freezing public sector pay for a year and bringing forward the raising of the state pension age to 66 as means of tackling this deficit.
Meanwhile Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg hinted that his party could look to follow the government in scrapping tax incentives on childcare vouchers.
He said: “We shouldn’t be spending large amounts of money – on our calculations we could save about £3bn a year – on providing tax credits to above-average-income families. Tax credits are effective benefits.”