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Apprentices' future bright as demand for skills is high, reports James Sturcke

The Government is under pressure to throw a lifeline to apprentices who have been left high and dry by the collapse of MG Rover.

Around 80 trainees were serving apprenticeships at the doomed Longbridge plant on the outskirts of Birmingham and a further 400 worked at dealerships around the country.

The Longbridge plant was awarded beacon status by Margaret Hodge, former lifelong learning minister, in April 2003 - when John Towers, the MG Rover chairman, was also chairman of Birmingham and Solihull Learning and Skills Council.

The award will have helped to secure LSC funding for apprenticeships at the plant but now the trainees need new placements.

In the meantime, Dudley college will take on Longbridge's automotive and engineering apprentices and Matthew Boulton technical college in Birmingham is offering training to those working in administrative areas of the company.

Christine Braddock, principal at Matthew Boulton, said: "It's not easy when 38 apprentices suddenly arrive but I wanted to make sure they had stability and continuity with their training.

"They are getting experience of our college working life until we can find proper employment for them. We are liaising with the business sector, setting up interviews. I'd hope to get them placed within a few weeks.

"We are trying to give them motivation and they are all pretty buoyant."

Those apprentices near the end of their training will be highly-valued by other employers, according to the LSC.

An LSC spokeswoman said: "We would expect young people who have done apprenticeships at Rover to be particularly marketable."

The picture is less clear for apprentices at dealerships, whose training is supported by colleges across the country.

For many dealerships, the next few weeks will be critical. Those which survive will be able to continue trading in second-hand Rovers and offering services and repairs.

Rover dealerships are not covered by the pound;150million support package announced by ministers to help Longbridge workers and suppliers.

But dealership workers who lose their jobs also deserve government help, according to Automotive Skills, the sector skills council for the industry.

Patricia Richards, its chief executive, said: "We believe it is inequitable that workers in Rover dealerships are ineligible for the support so far offered by the Government. We are lobbying hard for that to change."

Matthew Carrington, chief executive of Retail Motor Industry federation, predicted the dealership apprentices - even those who lose their jobs - have a rather brighter future than MG Rover.

He said: "We are trying to get to the bottom of what happens to the apprentices. If they work for a dealership that has a number of sites, they could be transferred.

"If a dealership closes, the apprentices have highly sought-after skills.

There is a desperate shortage of people with those skills in the sector. So I would be optimistic."

The federation is itself responsible for managing around 400 Rover apprentices among the 8,000 automotive learners under its training arm.

Nick Isles, of the Work Foundation think-tank, said: "The Government's injection of money is likely to alleviate rather than resolve.

"The degree of retraining required for future job opportunities will need to be at NVQ level 3, (A-level equivalent), rather than GNVQ level 2 (CSE- equivalent).

"The lessons from what has happened elsewhere tell us that retraining has to be of a specific type, both technical and vocational, as there are few economic returns to other, less advanced forms of work-based training."

Network Rail has said it would employ nearly 200 Longbridge workers and offer apprenticeship places.

The number of manufacturing jobs in the Birmingham has fallen over the past five years by more than 28 per cent.

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