Page last updated at 11:59 GMT, Thursday, 19 March 2009

'Too few' apprenticeships started

Apprentice
The government wants to increase the number of firms involved

Too few teenagers in England are starting apprenticeships, partly because of poor careers guidance, a report by the Skills Commission says.

It says an expansion of the apprenticeship programme "must not come at the expense of quality".

Teachers, as the main source of careers guidance, must be better trained in this area, says the report.

The government wants one in five young people to become apprentices - and says record numbers are coming forward.

The Skills Commission's report comes shortly after a survey which suggested a majority of teachers rate their knowledge of apprenticeships as poor.

Employment

The Skills Commission says although the number of apprentices is rising, only 130,000 businesses out of 1.3m actually take them on.

The report looked at how apprenticeships link in with other courses.

It says "very few apprentices are currently progressing into higher education or advanced further education", suggesting most apprentices move on to employment rather than further training.

Its major concerns are about how to monitor quality as the programme expands, and how to ensure teachers are more aware of the types of apprenticeships available.

It also says those offering careers guidance must regularly visit local employers to inform themselves about the local jobs market.

The Skills Commission says the government should fully fund apprenticeships for everyone up to the age of 25 - raising the age from 19.

Barry Sheerman, Skills Commission chairman, said the government should divert more money towards teacher training.

"We want to ensure the long-term prosperity and continued success of apprenticeships and, during this time of economic downturn, securing quality vocational routes for young people is ever-more important," he said.

Andy Powell, chairman of Edge, an education foundation which tries to raise the status of vocational and work-based learning, said: "Tackling the lack of knowledge about apprenticeships amongst teachers and careers guidance professionals is key to unlocking the potential of the programme."

The government says it is beginning to roll out a programme of teacher briefing sessions which is expected to reach 50,000 teachers.

They will cover the range of 14-19 education and training options available.

Schools minister Sarah McCarthy-Fry said: "We are also passing legislation to ensure that schools must include apprenticeships when giving information, advice and guidance to young people on their future qualifications and careers."

Responsibility for apprenticeships rests with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

A spokeswoman for Dius said there was no truth in the suggestion there were not enough people coming forward to do apprenticeships.

In fact, record numbers were doing so.

Sector 'at risk'

A Dius spokeswoman said: "This government has rescued apprenticeships having more than trebled their number since 1997 to almost a quarter of a million today.

"Last year was a record year for apprenticeships with the highest ever starts, completions and completion rate.

"We know apprenticeships are increasingly attractive for young people which is why we are continuing to expand the numbers available."

But Paul Sykes, head of recruitment and careers at the ConstructionSkills - the largest provider of apprenticeships in the construction industry, said: "Unless action is taken immediately the economy could be damaged irreparably."

Careers advisors needed greater support to equip them to introduce young people to the full breadth of opportunities available to them, he said.

ConstructionSkills was developing a strategy to do this.

"It is vital not just for the government's apprenticeship programme but for the construction industry more widely that the guidance available improves rapidly or we put at risk a sector vital to our economy's prosperity and growth."



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