Chef Greg Pryce is a few months from gaining an advanced modern apprenticeship in catering at Birmingham College of Food. The past few years have been very successful for Greg, 22, who works at the Renaissance Hotel in Solihull.
He was named Whitbread's modern apprentice of the year in 2001, and last year he won a place in the British team that competed in the Culinary Olympics. Most of his training takes place at college because he is normally too busy in work. "In the hotel, it's all hands-on," he says.
Unlike many apprentices, he does not find key skills too hard. "It's good to learn about computers and English," says Greg. "In kitchens you need to know how to do the books. It's not just about cooking."
THE COLLEGE MANAGER
Significantly more young people would gain modern apprenticeships if it were not for tests in key skills, says Martin Wagner, assistant principal at West Suffolk College. Pass rates are hard to assess because they vary so much between subjects, but Mr Wagner agrees with the Association of Colleges that only about half of learners complete the full apprenticeship.
West Suffolk tries to help students by integrating key skills into their programmes, but they must still sit the tests. "We are working hard to improve the situation," he says. "Many come to us with GCSE grades E and F in maths and we have to get them to level 2 in application of number," he adds. "In some cases that is not realistic and they fail the framework, even though they will be valuable employees."
Some jobs are more suited to modern apprencticeships than others, says Ed Schofield, manager of the Renaissance Hotel, Solihull.
"The success we have had has mostly been in the kitchen," he says.
"Catering is deemed to be more of a vocational area. We have taken MAs in reception with less success. Reception tends to be more transient. It's seen as a stepping stone to somewhere else."
The hotel normally employs about four apprentices at a time, most of whom attend Solihull College.
"Modern apprentices are very much the future," says Mr Schofield. "It is essential we attract young people into the industry and ensure they are trained to a high standard."
THE UNIVERSITY LECTURER
There is no reason why modern apprenticeships should not lead to higher education in the same way as A-levels, says Judy Salmon, a senior lecturer at Thames Valley University.
She has just started leading a new course at Thames Valley for 21 employees of EDS, an IT outsourcing firm. All have modern apprenticeships and will spend the next three years gaining, initially, a foundation degree and then a BSc in information systems.
Workshops are run on Saturday mornings with students expected to carry out projects in work.
"We wanted to give apprentices the opportunity to develop their careers further. We think they have the potential to do very well on the degree course," says Ms Salmon.