Government lays skills hopes on apprenticeships

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT yesterday launched a 'Modern Apprentice' programme as its key initiative to bridge the skills gap with Britain's main competitors.

David Hunt, the Secretary of State for Employment, unveiled a pilot scheme covering 14 industrial sectors and aiming to train school- leavers to NVQ Level Three - the equivalent of A-level.

The announcement came in the wake of an agreement by ministers, industrialists, unions and Training and Enterprise Councils that Britain's main skills problem relates to employees at supervisor and technician level. The Modern Apprentice scheme is seen as the flagship programme for the private sector-led TECs, which spend about pounds 2bn of taxpayers' money largely on the unemployed.

The initial scheme will cover 2,000 16 to 17-year-olds and will offer training in sectors from information technology to retailing and child care. It will be administered by TECs.

Mr Hunt denied that he was simply repackaging the existing training credits initiative, under which school-leavers are equipped with training vouchers that they 'spend' with employers.

'It is not tinkering with the existing system but rather a fundamental reform of a critical part of the country's training arrangements,' he said.

Kenneth Clarke, Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced in the November Budget that pounds 1.25bn would be set aside over three years for training credits and the apprentice initiative, the main part of which will start in September 1995. It is expected that 150,000 young people will be on the scheme at any one time.

Some 40,000 a year will qualify - a threefold increase on present numbers funded through government sources.

Employers will select the school- leavers they believe are capable of the apprentice qualification and then sign a formal document guaranteeing that their organisation will provide the relevant opportunities.

John Prescott, Labour's spokesman on employment, argued that the programme amounted to a 'pitiful drop in the ocean'. He pointed out that 600,000 young people in Germany won the equivalent qualifications every year.