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Apprentice bid failing to reach target numbers

Employers remain to be convinced of the benefits of taking part in the Government's flagship training scheme.

While no official figures are yet available for the Modern Apprenticeship initiative, reports from the South-west and the North-west reveal that companies are not offering enough training places to meet targets.

The Modern Apprenticeship, designed to raise Britain's skills base, is administered by training and enterprise councils. Using a lump sum from the Government they pay employers to take on apprentices. Wages for the apprentices vary depending on how much the employer is prepared to add to the TEC subsidy.

But training and enterprise councils administering the scheme, are confident that forceful marketing will boost interest among school-leavers and employers.

The Department for Education and Employment, which claims it has no national targets for the scheme, reports an "enthusiastic" employer response.

Modern Apprenticeships - proposed in the Government's May 1994 Competitiveness White Paper - were piloted last year with 2,000 places available on 14 prototype schemes covering many industries.

The range of apprenticeships now available in the first full year of the initiative has swollen to 51, with 11 more in the pipeline.

According to Richard Guy, chairman of the Modern Apprenticeship working group and chief executive of Manchester TEC, the scheme has made a promising start across the country, though individual TECs have not always met their target number of places.

A total of 1,500 students will start this year on schemes administered through Manchester TEC - but the intake falls below the target of 1,950. Mr Guy admits involving employers has been "a long haul". In the worst-hit parts of the South-west, only one in five employers asked to take part in the scheme has agreed.

A survey by Industrial Relations Services has shown that employers with a history of involvement in apprenticeships, such as engineering and construction, have proved receptive, while more modern industries are cautious.

In the retail industry too, uptake is poor - while the best employers have always invested in training, others appear to be unmoved by the enticements of the Modern Apprenticeship.

The chief misgiving appears to be over levels of Government funding. A total of Pounds 1.25 billion for Youth Training and the Modern Apprenticeship over three years is seen as inadequate by many employers. There is also concern that the Modern Apprenticeship clashes with other schemes.

Meanwhile there are also some employers the TECs would rather not take on, says Mr Guy. A few are simply looking to hire young, cheap workers.

Scope still exists for the Modern Apprenticeship initiative to expand. But, Mr Guy says, the latest batch of subjects which are being prepared include some more "rarefied sectors" - such as work with horses and in museums - indicating that key industries have now been largely covered.

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