Every school leaver who gets the right grades will be guaranteed an apprenticeship place under a future Labour government, party leader Ed Miliband announced today.
Mr Miliband pledged to create at least 80,000 high-quality training opportunities for young people every year of the next parliament if elected, by making it standard practice for employers in the public and private sectors to offer apprenticeships, including the private offices of government ministers.
Half of the places will come from reversing the trend away from young people doing the training courses, and the remainder from of the party's jobs guarantee policy, paid for by the banker's bonus tax and restricting pensions tax relief for people earning more than £150,000.
But Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps defended the government's record on apprenticeships and claimed Labour's plan could mean putting up corporation tax and potentially cost almost 100,000 jobs.
It has been claimed the three main parties are in the middle of an “apprenticeship arms race”.
The Tories have pledged to redirect £300 million from the welfare budget to help fund one million extra high quality apprenticeships by the end of the next parliament.
The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, have pledged to increase the number of apprenticeships and improve their quality, as well as to give more incentives to employers to take on apprentices and expand the number of degree-equivalent higher apprenticeships.
The government recently celebrated creating two million new apprenticeships since 2010.
Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said that while apprenticeships were important, they were not the only option.
Employers and colleges should be given flexibility to work closely to develop relevant and up-to-date learning programmes and qualifications, he said.
The University and College Union said it was time to look at a “radical overhaul” of what constitutes an apprenticeship and explore the idea of longer courses so apprentices receive a more rounded education and fair pay.
Stewart Segal, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, which represents the training providers who deliver the majority of apprenticeships in England, described the announcement as encouraging.
“However we believe these must be real jobs created by employers and any guarantee must not compromise this," he said.
“Apprenticeships provide a route into work for young people at all levels in the economy and we should not reserve them just for those who achieve good GCSEs.”
Government has 'downgraded' apprenticeships, Labour claims – February 2015