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Apprenticeship fails minorities

The new Modern Apprenticeships are failing to live up to Government promises of broad appeal to a wide range of employers and trainees, the first detailed research into the scheme suggests.

New figures reveal the vast majority of apprentices are male - the group already best served by training - and only a handful are from ethnic minorities.

The employers taking part come mainly from industries with a past history of apprenticeship, such as engineering and construction, confirming earlier findings that more modern industries are cautious.

Though the report on the 1994-5 pilot year of the Modern Apprenticeships shows nine out of 10 of the young people and employers involved were satisfied with their experience, the figures will prompt criticism that Government pledges of a balanced scheme attracting a radically wider group than old-style apprenticeships have not been fulfilled.

The study comes amid Labour claims that take-up of the flagship scheme is well below expectations. Latest figures show 4,000 apprenticeships were running at the end of September, with the Government hoping to see numbers rise to 30,000 by January. Labour training spokesman Stephen Byers claimed the scheme had been rushed out without sufficient preparation, adding: "There is great lack of enthusiasm by employers which indicates the Government has got it wrong. "

Modern Apprenticeships, designed to raise Britain's skills base, are administered by training and enterprise councils, who use Government cash to subsidise employers to take on trainees usually aged 16 or 17.

The study, commissioned by the former Employment Department and carried out by consultants Ernst Young, also reveals many TECs and employers' bodies are sceptical about accelerated Modern Apprenticeships, aimed at 18 and 19-year-old school and college-leavers. They believe funding is insufficient and the time allotted too short to allow apprentices to reach required training levels.

Junior education and employment minister James Paice acknowledged the need to get across the "important message" that the scheme was not aimed only at traditional sectors.

He told The TES was understandable that take-up was initially from industries with a history of apprenticeship but added the balance would correct itself. Feedback from employers had been "extremely positive".

He admitted that the number of apprentices from ethnic minorities - just 3 per cent - was disappointing, but predicted more women would enter the scheme this year.

Though one third of employers involved are shown in the report to be dissatisfied with the level of funding Mr Paice denied it was a principal concern.

The Ernst Young report offers a largely upbeat analysis of the first year of Modern Apprenticeships. Nine out of 10 employers say they would recommend the scheme to others. Nine out of 10 apprentices were satisfied with the scheme.

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