Recession-hit science, engineering and manufacturing industries are behind the decline in apprenticeship recruitment, new figures reveal.
As Apprenticeship Week comes to an end, the figures show the number of places continues to fall, with 6,500 fewer apprenticeships in the first quarter of this academic year compared with last year - a decline of about 6 per cent.
While opportunities for teenagers continue to disappear, it has been offset in part by a rise in the number of 18 to 25-year-olds who found training places at the end of 2009.
Last year saw 8,000 fewer places for under-18s and a drop of 5,400 for 18 to 25-year-olds, reversing about a decade of apprenticeship growth for young people.
But places for over-25s, often already in jobs before being offered training, more than doubled to 55,900, taking the overall number of starts to a record 239,900.
According to figures supplied by ministers, engineering, manufacturing, science and maths lost nearly 10,000 places between them, the only subjects to see a drop in numbers for all ages.
The figures reflect the first year of operation of the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS), but the body defended its performance in difficult circumstances.
A spokeswoman said: "We know that the 16-18 age group has been hit hard in the recession - which is why our business model is very much geared towards helping this group.
"We have put in place management plans to do everything possible to ensure as many people as possible can experience the opportunities and benefits of an apprenticeship.
"As a result, we are receiving a steady flow of new opportunities from both small and large, private and public sector organisations, giving us confidence in meeting our apprenticeship ambitions."
It hopes the apprenticeship grant for employers, which offers 5,000 businesses a pound;2,500 incentive to hire 16 and 17-year-olds as apprentices, will help to stimulate demand and halt the decline.
"This is a short-term measure as we recognise the particular issues faced by young people in the current economic climate and we want to support them and ensure that we are training a new generation for economic recovery," the spokeswoman said.
The NAS also said it has been using a marketing campaign to promote the business benefits of offering apprenticeships, and highlighting the fact that 16-18 training is fully funded.
Colleges have been playing their part to increase numbers, having already exceeded their government target to employ 1,500 apprentices by April this year.
Pete Birkett, principal of Barnfield College in Luton and the national apprenticeship champion for further education, said: "We can help deliver the Government's promise to get young people back into work, or to give them work experience that will deliver the key skills that employers are looking for."
Last year, it employed 12 apprentices directly in the college, and a total of 23 within the two academies it runs, as well as local schools.
Now it aims to recruit hundreds more through a new apprenticeship academy which will include the apprentices it recruits into education jobs, apprentices in other public sector roles, and an "apprenticeship employment agency" that allows them to work for multiple employers on short contracts without firms having to commit to a full programme.