TEENAGERS ARE shunning devalued "virtual apprenticeships" because there is too little practical work with employers, according to the Conservative shadow minister for vocational education.
John Hayes and Scott Kelly, a New York University politics professor and Westminster consultant, said allowing apprentices to spend increasing amounts of time in the classroom was responsible for a fall in numbers since 2004.
In a report for right-wing think tank the Centre for Policy Studies, they quoted the Adult Learning Inspectorate as having said: "Apprentices can potentially achieve the full requirements of the apprenticeship framework without having to set foot in a workplace."
The report said a traditional apprenticeship was built around mentoring by skilled craftsmen, but many now had no mentor.
"This also means there is often little motivation to acquire soft skills, such as punctuality, which employers say new recruits often lack," the authors said.
But Phil Hope, skills minister, denied the claims, saying that if the inspectorate had found isolated failings, this did not undermine an otherwise successful system.
Mr Hope said: "Apprenticeships all but disappeared in the 1980s under the Conservatives. To be criticised for both expanding apprenticeships and improving quality is a bit rich coming from the party that basically destroyed them."