Government's flagship research and development centres urged to hire apprentices

Exclusive: Scheme has fewer than 100 apprentices, figures reveal

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The Government’s flagship scheme to foster shared research and development between business and scientists in highly skilled work such as nuclear engineering has fewer than 100 apprentices, figures reveal.

Chuka Umunna, the shadow Business Secretary, who obtained the statistics, said the Government should put the Catapult Centres scheme “front and centre” of its plans to create skilled apprenticeships.

There are seven Catapults that boast of being “world-leading centres designed to transform the UK’s capability for innovation in seven specific areas and help drive future economic growth”. These include a Cell Therapy Catapult at Guy’s Hospital in London, the National Composites Centre in Bristol, and the Warwick Manufacturing Group, which has no apprentices.

After Warwick, the two Catapults with the fewest apprentices were the £35m Advanced Forming Research Centre at the University of Strathclyde, which heats, measures and tests metal components, and the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Manchester. They have just seven apprentices between them, only one of whom is under 19 years old.

The Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry had the most apprentices, with 58, while the seventh Catapult, the Centre for Process Innovation, headquartered in Redcar in North Yorkshire, has six.

The figures are potentially embarrassing for the Government because ministers have trumpeted the number of apprentices created since David Cameron entered Number 10 five years ago. There have been 2.2 million new apprenticeships since 2010, with a pledge to create 3 million more by 2020.

Mr Umunna said: “Catapult Centres, initiated by the last Labour government, play a unique role bridging the gap between innovation and industry so that cutting edge ideas can become the success stories of tomorrow.

“The Government claims it is committed to closing the productivity gap and creating more opportunities for high-skilled, better-paid jobs, particularly for young people. The Catapult Centres have a huge role to play here, but these figures show that disappointingly they currently only offer a handful of apprenticeships.

“Instead of being ignored, Catapults should be put front and centre of plans to increase the number of quality apprenticeships and grow the jobs of the future.”

In a parliamentary written answer, the Business minister Nick Boles said: “The Catapult network does not have a formal policy on apprenticeships, but … funding has been provided for the building of state-of-the-art facilities for training apprentices in two locations.” He said Catapult employed 93 apprentices directly at its seven centres and more than 250 were being trained on behalf of industry.