Page last updated at 22:45 GMT, Friday, 23 January 2009

Government vows to help apprentices

By Chris Vallance
BBC Radio 4 iPM programme

Car mechanic
We will be making every effort to ensure that every single apprentice will be helped in one way or other
Lord Young, the minister responsible for apprenticeships in England

Luke Bassil, a 20 year-old apprentice vehicle technician based in Bournemouth, recently learned that he was being made redundant.

Five months away from completing the second year of a three year apprenticeship, he is now struggling to find a new work placement.

His situation is dire, and he will not be able to benefit from the government's recent promise that apprentices in new public sector schemes will be able to complete their training, come what may.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced a 140m plan to create 35,000 additional apprenticeship places, of which 20,000 would be in the public sector.

And the government will "guarantee those apprenticeships" in the public sector, according to the minister responsible for apprenticeships in England, Lord Young.

Wasted effort

Before he was made redundant, Mr Bassil had been able to turn his enthusiasm for cars into a career.

Luke Bassil
Mr Bassil is concerned his efforts have been wasted

The training had given his life a sense of direction.

"When I finished school I never really knew what I was going to do when I was older," he says.

"Then I got a car and started fiddling about with it and I decided that's what I wanted to do."

Mr Bassil is passionate about cars.

But if he cannot find a new work placement he will not be able to qualify as a mechanic.

Mr Bassil is a member of a growing number of existing apprentices who have lost their work placements and are unable to complete their courses at a time when unemployment is rising fast across the UK.

"I put my heart and soul into it and I got in the door and I've come this far," he says.

"Now it's all for nothing."

Formal structures

Alongside his workplace experience, now halted at least temporarily, Mr Bassil studies with Paragon Skills, one of the largest private apprenticeship training firms in the South West of England.

Gavin Freed
Mr Freed says some learners are struggling to find alternatives

Paragon Skill's chief executive, Gavin Freed, says that within the motor industry they are seeing some "anecdotal evidence" of learners who are struggling to find alternative places if their employment comes to end.

Mr Freed would like to see formal structures put in place to help people like Mr Bassil.

Matching service

It is not just the motor industry that has been affected by the downturn.

In the construction industry in England, some 1,200 apprentices have lost their places since the summer.

In Scotland there has also been an increase in the number of construction apprentices losing their places.

Mark Farrar, chief executive of ConstructionSkills, the body responsible for apprenticeships in construction in England, says there is an "urgent need to help those already in employment and training, who are now facing redundancy".

As a result, ConstructionSkills has created a new matching service that has helped 350 apprentices find new places.

Further sectors

But the story is different in other sectors.

The Skillsmart Retail, the skills council responsible for apprenticeships in the retail sector in England say, "news on apprenticeships is, in the main, very positive."

The TUC would like to see measures in place to make it easier for apprentices hit by the downturn to transfer to other areas

"We also need to be looking between sectors," says Caroline Smith, a policy adviser at the TUC.

For Lord Young it is the matching service in the construction industry that points the way forward

"We think this should be expanded into other sectors," he says, adding that the government is looking at a number of ways to assist apprentices facing redundancy.

Asked whether that would include support for private sector employers struggling to keep apprentices on, Lord Young suggested "it may well include that".

He is also prepared to make an even greater commitment related to the 20,000 new public sector apprenticeships.

"They're all guaranteed", says Lord Young, adding that he will be talking to government colleagues about the issue.

And for apprentices such as Mr Bassil, he promises that the government will do all it can to help.

"We will be making every effort to ensure that every single apprentice will be helped in one way or other."

This interview comes from iPM which is broadcast on Saturdays at 1730 GMT on Radio 4. Comment on this story at the iPM blog or suggest your own story idea.

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