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Britain's apprenticeship training providers have welcomed the Apprenticeships Bill in the Queen's Speech and Ed Balls" proposals for expanding apprenticeships as part of plans to raise the learning leaving age, but have warned that more employers need to be signed up to the programme to ensure its success.

According to the Association of Learning Providers (ALP), which represents vocational learning providers who train more than 80% of the country's apprentices, much of the value of an apprenticeship to a young person is that it comes tied to a contract of employment with a local employer, together with good earning prospects.

However, as a House of Lords committee report reported in the summer, not enough employers are offering apprenticeships to meet demand from young people. Part of the challenge, says ALP, is helping employers access more easily financial support for apprentices of any age between 16 and 25 rather than just for the 16-18 age group.

The relative lack of apprenticeship funding for 19-25 year olds turns off potentially interested employers and leaves young people themselves disaffected when expectations on increased opportunities are being raised. Training providers also report that this is a stumbling block in trying to break down the gender imbalances within many apprenticeship programmes, because young women often wait until they are over 18 before deciding that they want to try an apprenticeship.

Furthermore, ALP would be concerned if the Government's Programme Led Pathways, which offer apprenticeship training with no immediate offer of employment or guarantee of employment on completion, were used as major means of expanding apprenticeships.

UCAS-style matching service needs careful thought

These issues are also related to ALP only being able to give a cautious welcome to the Government's plans to introduce a UCAS-style matching service for placing young people with employers able to offer apprenticeships. The association is concerned that the number of available places will be vastly outweighed by the number of young people wanting them "“ again resulting in unmet expectations and disaffection which would damage the growing reputation of the programme as a high-quality post-16 education and training option. ALP believes that efforts need to be focused on increasing the number of places offered by employers.

Graham Hoyle, ALP's chief executive, said: "The high reputation of apprenticeships among a rapidly increasing number of young people, often with good GCSE results in their pocket, depends on places being offered with a proper job tied to them. The Government needs to be more flexible in responding to employer requests for support in funding apprenticeships if there is not going to be a big mismatch between what businesses can offer and young people want."

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ALP has recently submitted a full written proposal to the DCSF and DIUS on apprenticeships can play an even greater role in serving the economy and improving the career prospects of young people. It is committed to work closely with the Government and the Learning and Skills Council to ensure that the programme can be expanded successfully.

New legislation must ensure "unbiased" advice in schools on post-16 options

The House of Lords committee report on apprenticeships was the latest in a long line of studies that have identified biased advice in many schools against vocational learning options as a factor behind the record numbers of young people in the NEET group (i.e. not in education, employment or training). ALP will be exploring whether the Education and Skills Bill, announced in the Queen's Speech, can be used to place a statutory obligation on local education authorities and schools to rectify this problem either directly or by strengthening the role of Ofsted in this regard.

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