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Scheme to match-make jobs and trainees fails to win hearts

Fewer than 2.5 per cent of places filled using National Apprenticeship Service's flagship resource

Fewer than 2.5 per cent of places filled using National Apprenticeship Service's flagship resource

Employers and trainees have shunned the National Apprenticeship Service's help, with fewer than 2.5 per cent of places filled using its recruitment tools.

The service's one-year-old vacancy matching facility hit a peak of 720 placements in October last year, bringing the total number of apprentices it has recruited to 6,000.

But that is just a fraction of the 4,000 vacancies advertised on the online service every month, which in turn is only a small proportion of nearly 240,000 apprenticeships started in 200809.

The pound;15.7 million matching service, an web-based jobs portal for apprentices and employers, is one of the main tools used by the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) to meet a government target to raise the number of apprenticeship starts to 400,000 a year in England by 2020.

It was backed by an advertising campaign featuring Sir Alan Sugar, which cost more than pound;3 million to create and screen.

David Willetts, the shadow skills secretary who unearthed the figures through a Parliamentary question, said the Government should focus on investing in more apprenticeship places and cutting red tape for employers.

He said: "Apprenticeships are an excellent way to help the young victims of the recession, but the Government is failing to provide the real help needed.

"Instead of celebrity gimmicks like getting Alan Sugar to front a highly expensive advertising campaign, ministers should be funding apprenticeship places and making it easier for businesses to run the schemes. It looks like yet again they were too focused on what headlines they could spin rather than what would actually help people."

A survey by the Confederation of British Industry last year said employers needed financial help to offer apprenticeships, with more than half saying there should be incentive payments for taking on an apprentice.

But the NAS defended its record, saying that the vacancy matching service was improving all the time. "The number of successful candidates on apprenticeship vacancies is significantly improving month on month. We now have nearly 4,000 new vacancies being posted every month," a spokeswoman said.

"To date, more than 6,000 candidates have confirmed they have started their apprenticeship having found their job through apprenticeship vacancies. The number of those confirming they have jobs with us through this route is rising each month."

The NAS also believes the figures could "significantly underestimate" the numbers who find their job through the matching service, as applicants can be directed to employers' own online vacancies.

The spokeswoman added: "We are working with employers to ensure all appointments are fed back to NAS so that we can record their successes. The full process to fill a vacancy, from initial posting through selection, interview and starting a post can take up to four months, so there will be a delay in the recording of the apprentice starting their post."

In future, the NAS intends to force providers to advertise all their opportunities through the matching service by including it as a contract requirement.

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