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Apprentice recruiting goal lacks hard facts

PARLIAMENT HAS criticised the government for failing to ensure there are enough places for teenagers wanting to train as apprentices.

The House of Lords select committee on economic affairs said, unlike other countries such as Switzerland and Germany, England kept no information on the number of under-18s seeking apprenticeships.

Instead, the Learning and Skills Council told the committee that it worked on the assumption that the number of places it funds corresponded to the number of people wanting to train.

The Government has pledged to implement an entitlement for all eligible teenagers to be able take an apprenticeship by 2013, but the committee's criticism calls into question whether the pledge means anything unless work is done to assess the real level of demand.

Sir Roy Gardner, chairman of the Apprenticeship Ambassadors Network, and Professor Lorna Unwin from the Institute of Education, said they believed there were shortages of places across the country.

"Some employers, like BT for example, will tell you that they have 15,000 applications for 80 places," said Gardner. Professor Unwin told the committee. "The problem with some of that is that it is anecdotal and there needs to be a survey of employers to get harder evidence."

The Lords said apprenticeships should become the main route to skills for teenagers not planning on going to university.

Funding for each place, currently pound;3,250, should be given directly to employers who would then subcontract external training, as an incentive for businesses to provide more places, the committee said.

It said a clearing system, advertising all vacant apprenticeships as happens with university places, should be run by the LSC.

The peers said that too much emphasis had been put on the numbers of apprentices and not enough on the quality, singling out service sector apprenticeships for criticism for their "unchallenging content" and lack of time for training.

Improving quality, and ensuring students can progress through the levels to foundation degrees, should be the responsibility of the sector skills councils, which act as the voice of employers, they said.

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