Colleges and training providers are failing to recruit fast enough to meet the Government's target of an extra 50,000 apprentices this year, despite achieving record numbers.
Figures for the first quarter of the academic year show a rise of 32 per cent on last year's apprenticeship numbers, which were themselves a new record. But while providers have been praised for increasing recruitment despite the economic downturn, they were warned that they were not on course to provide the extra 50,000 places announced by the Coalition earlier this year.
David Hughes, national director of college and provider services at the Skills Funding Agency, said: "Despite this encouraging performance, we estimate that we are slightly below the trajectory to achieve the additional 50,000 apprenticeships this year.
"We always knew that this was a big shift for colleges and training organisations to make in such a short time, and it may be that the shift from Train to Gain into apprenticeships delivery will accelerate over the coming months. If so, we should start to see evidence of it in the next few weeks. If it is not then we all need to take stock and review what we can do to hit the trajectory."
Mr Hughes said providers were not being hampered by a lack of funding and the agency would work with the National Apprenticeship Service to help providers further increase the number of apprenticeships.
The Coalition has also pledged to fund 75,000 extra apprenticeships for adults a year by 2015 - although that is less than the Conservatives' pre- election pledge of 100,000 places as a replacement for Train to Gain. FE minister John Hayes said they would provide "more apprentices than we have ever had before".
A spokesman for the Association of Learning Providers (ALP) said it was confident that sufficient apprentices would be recruited over the course of this year if the providers recruiting the highest number are allowed to expand further.
"We are waiting for a letter from the Skills Funding Agency and the National Apprenticeship Service to apprenticeship providers saying that we can go over our agreed contract volumes at the beginning of the year," he said.
"In the past, we've had problems with Train to Gain where there was an issue about whether providers would be paid in those circumstances.
"So there's an element of `once bitten, twice shy' about it. Some providers who could deliver more are holding back until they get that confirmation that they will be paid for the work."
But he said that while recruitment for 16-18 apprenticeships remained difficult because employers were reluctant to create new jobs, there were no such obstacles to recruiting adults, who are often already in employment but who could benefit from training.
Original print headline: Apprentices, you're hired - but not fast enough for ministers