Employers who accept trainees under the New Deal are proving to be a major source of business for colleges.
Lambeth College is receiving five or six enquiries a week from firms seeking training for New Deal employees and possibly other staff at the same time.
Marie Dooley, New Deal manager at the south London college, said: "We are only talking about one or two people from each employer. There is certainly a momentum but we need to push harder."
After years of watching work-based training switch from FE colleges to employers, often under franchise agreements, college manager are about to rethink their approach. "We are having to reinvent the day-release programme," said Graeme Hall, Lambeth's director of business development.
Among the first New Deal employees to turn up for training at Lambeth was Patrick Bowman, a trainee chef at Flumb's Restaurant in Clapham which is receiving pound;750 towards the cost of his national vocational qualification in catering.
"I studied catering at college before and gained a hygiene certificate. The New Deal certainly seems to be helping me go further," said Patrick, who is attending college one day per week.
Tony Tweedy, community manager at Sheffield College, admitted staff had not been expecting such a large response from employers. Enquiries have included firms looking for courses in skills ranging from plumbing to specialist printing. "We will need to develop more flexible programmes to meet the needs of employers," he said. "It has started a whole debate about modularisation so that students can roll-on and roll-off different courses.
Many students work for small employers. Stephen Flintoft, a trainee at Sheffield auctioneers AE Dowse amp; Sons, attends college every Tuesday to study for two certificates in information technology which can be used as units towards an NVQ.
Stephen, who already has a degree in the history of fine art, switches his day at college to Mondays if he is required to attend an auction.
"I already know a little bit about it but I thought it would be better to gain a recognised qualification," he said.