Apprenticeships push aims for 'British jobs'

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The Independent Online

More than 150,000 apprenticeships in such sought-after skills as plumbing and building will be created in an attempt to meet Gordon Brown's pledge to create "British jobs for British workers".

John Denham, the Skills Secretary, said the £1bn programme should mean firms did not have to look abroad because UK workers were poorly trained.

But after criticism that the Prime Minister's promise could breach human rights legislation, the Government was unable to guarantee the new places would be solely reserved for Britons. The numbers of apprenticeships will increase from 250,000 to more than 400,000 in the next four years. Places on courses for adults who struggle with basic literacy and numeracy will be boosted to 3.5 million. Almost a third of adults in work are poorly qualified, with many lacking confidence in the "three R's".

The Government has repeatedly welcomed the increasing numbers in work over the past decade.

But many of the new jobs have gone to higher skilled and better qualified overseas workers, many from the east European new members of the European Union.

Mr Denham said: "The primary reason we are expanding skills and training places is to make sure the British economy is prosperous and competitive in the future and to make sure everyone can share in that.

"We would be doing this whether or not migrant labour was available, but this will help ensure that British workers can compete for jobs."

A spokesman for the Department of Innovation, Skills and Universities said: "It is just common sense that if you do improve the skills base of the current workforce, there will be less need to recruit migrants."

The Federation of Small Businesses welcomed the initiative but said that it highlighted failures in schools standards.

Stephen Alambritis, its spokesman, said: "When recruiting school-leavers, over 40 per cent of small businesses report problems with basic, low-level skills, such as literacy and numeracy, and soft skills, such as communication."