Training and Enterprise Council leaders have warned that funding cuts could jeopardise Government plans to give a new entitlement to learning to all young people aged 14 to 21.
The TEC National Council has warned that, where there are currently barriers to learning participation, such as problems of finance, "introducing a concept of entitlement could be seen to be of little value and may raise false expectations".
The scheme is close to the hearts of Conservative ministers, who pushed the scheme forward before the general election was called and have made it a key point of their appeal to the training lobby.
Ministers aim to introduce the Learning Credits scheme from next Easter.
Under the scheme every 16- to 21-year-old will be entitled to:
* two weeks' work experience pre-16;
* enhanced careers education and guidance from 14; a new national record of achievement from 14;
* access by age 21 to learning opportunities leading, where appropriate, to Level 3 qualifications;
* continuing independent advice from the careers service, post-16.
However, TEC leaders say young people, although having an entitlement to work-based training at 18 to 21, might be unable to participate. "There is considerable concern amongst TECs that, whilst offering young people this entitlement, the Department for Education and Employment is currently cutting back on TEC budgets," their response says.
They say that, if the entitlement is to have real meaning and credibility,all young people "should be able to access their chosen learning option at no cost to them, whatever their choice of route. The learning entitlement should be publicly funded for all young people to age 21 for the route of their choice up to Level 3."
The Government intends to set targets for the careers services, providing individual guidance in Year 11.
But the TECs warn that setting a target simply on the basis of a percentage of the cohort, without taking account of special learning needs,could result in a concentration on "soft" targets - like those easiest to find and help.
This would further disadvantage those outside the system who require a range of new approaches to locate them and re-motivate them to consider their future learning options.
The setting of targets for individual interviews by the careers service should be managed by the DfEE to avoid the risk of concentrating on coverage at the expense of quality. There must be quality frameworks and adequate levels of resourcing if the understanding, decision-making and choices of young people at this critical stage are to be genuinely enhanced.
The inclusion of an entitlement to independent information and impartial guidance was central to ensuring effective understanding and utilisation of the Learning Credit. Careers education prior to Years 9 and 10 should prepare young people for Learning Credits, in advance of the additional impartial support they will subsequently be able to access from 14 onwards.
The TECs support the inclusion of work experience in the entitlement but say it should not necessarily be confined to the final year of compulsory education. Two weeks should be a minimum entitlement from age 14. Many young people would benefit from more work experience opportunities, available on a flexible basis throughout their last two to three years of compulsory education.
The National Council recommends moving as quickly as possible to a position where young people are entitled to up to three weeks' work experience as an integral part of their educational experience between Years 9 and 11.
The TECs favour a plastic card - a tangible object which embodies the learning credit - and suggest it could be linked into a national learning register, which would hold details of learner achievements at both foundation level and throughout life.
They believe the system should be as simple as possible to begin with and build on existing good practice with youth credits to enable a successful introduction.
Finally, they propose a change in the wording. Research had shown that potential customers had a negative perception of the word "credit", especially when applied to a plastic card of the credit-card style. This was due to its association with incurring debt.
Alternative suggestions are: learning passport, opportunity passport, prospects pass, opportunity rights, learning access and learning mastercard.