A unique apprenticeship scheme in Essex is showing Britain how a collaborative regional approach can boost the number of apprentices, including young engineers.
Hundreds of apprenticeships, scores of them in engineering, are being supported by Essex County Council in a scheme that offers training in the county's colleges and work placement with local firms.
The scheme has already helped to boost engineering numbers at colleges across Essex, including Colchester Institute and Harlow College. The council effectively employs all 120 engineering and manufacturing apprentices and pays their wages while they train.
Harlow principal Colin Hindmarch said: "It has been a real boost for us, enabling us to get back into engineering in a way that we would not have been able to do before. It has also enabled us to build new links with local employers and to revive old links."
Twenty of the college's 46 engineering apprentices were in Germany this week meeting and working with counterparts in German institutions. Success rates on the level 2 apprenticeships are running at more than 90 per cent at Harlow, with around half expected to progress to a level 3 qualification.
The scheme grew out of a conversation started 12 months ago by the county council. It asked colleges, employers and other local stakeholders about the future of young people in Essex during the economic downturn and in the face of a possible shortage of college places due to funding cuts.
The result was a scheme to create up to 1,750 apprenticeships by 2012. In addition to the 120 engineering and manufacturing apprenticeships, the scheme will support apprentices in areas such as aviation, logistics, environmental technology, marine, information technology, construction and creative and cultural industries.
While the engineering and manufacturing apprentices are paid by the council as they train, local employers are being encouraged to take on trainees directly.
Employers which take on an apprentice are eligible for a wage subsidy of up to 70 per cent of the pound;95-a-week minimum wage.
"The response has been great, with no end of support from businesses," said Pete Cook, assistant director for skills and international trade at the council.
"The real value of this is that ultimately we will have helped more than 1,700 young people to kick-start their careers. Our experience shows that it can be done."
Public sector employers are also eligible for a subsidy of up to 50 per cent of the minimum wage if they recruit an apprentice.
Keith Brown, Essex regional organiser for the Federation of Small Businesses, which is working in partnership with the county council, said: "It is very popular with small employers who must always ask `do I have enough work to justify taking on another person'. The beauty of this scheme is that it reduces this hurdle.
"I also think that the reason this scheme is working is that before they started doing anything the county council sat down with small businesses and asked them where the problems were when it came to apprentices."