THE Scottish Executive will insist next week that targets for modern apprenticeships will be achieved within the next two years, dismissing earlier reports that this would not be possible.
The Executive has set a target of having 20,000 apprentices in training in 2003 - as opposed to the total numbers trained. Wendy Alexander, Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Minister, is set to announce on Monday that there are just over 17,000 apprentices now, an increase from the previous figure of 15,760 last November.
She will also reveal that at least one target, for engineering apprentices, has already been achieved.
This will be welcome news to Henry McLeish, the First Minister, who was so alarmed at the lack of progress when he was in charge of lifelong learning that he announced a pound;3 million boost to improve the take-up of apprenticeships almost exactly a year ago.
Mr McLeish described the modern apprenticeship scheme, part of the Skillseekers programme, as "a central plank in our strategy to create a knowledge-driven economy and a successful and prosperous Scotland in the 21st century".
There had been concerns at the low number of girls attracted to apprenticeships, itself largely a reflection of the fact that trainees were concentrated in male-dominated sectors of construction, engineering, motor vehicle and electrical installation.
Government objectives such as persuadin more young people to stay on at school and getting 40,000 extra students on to FE courses were also in competition.
Meanwhile at least one area is singing the praises of the Skillseekers and modern apprenticeship programmes. According to Scottish Enterprise Glasgow, the success of the Skillseekers programme in the city is one of its best-kept secrets.
As the education authority pledges an ambitious three-year target to halve the 20 per cent of school-leavers who end up jobless, leaders of the Skillseekers programme point out that nine out of 10 young people who train through it find a job. They stress that means full-time employment on a minimum wage of pound;100 a week.
The most recent figures show more than 5,000 16-24s on Skillseekers programmes, of whom more than 4,000 are in jobs. That compares with 1,886 six years ago and 862 in jobs.
More than 2,700 are modern apprentices who are employed from the first day of their training in craft, technician and trainee management jobs. They are expected to be capable of reaching level 3 or above in a Scottish Vocational Qualification. Occupations are as diverse as accountancy, welding, pharmacy and equine care. In 1995, there were only 184 modern apprenticeships in the city.
Scottish Enterprise Glasgow, says: "Employers are getting exactly what they want and youngsters are being steered into jobs tailor-made for them".