Brown pushes apprenticeships in global “skills race”

The government has launched a major review of apprenticeships as part of Gordon Brown’s efforts to improve the workforce’s skill base.

Ministers want one in five young people to be taking an apprenticeship within the next decade, with work-based training accepted as a mainstream option.

To facilitate this, the prime minister told business leaders today the government will create 90,000 more places by 2013.

The government believes apprenticeships should be a key route to building the national skills base and today’s review is designed to see how they can be expanded, enabled by the additional funding announced in November.

In a press conference in London, Mr Brown said the UK needed to win the “skills race” to remain competitive in the global economy.

He said: “A generation ago, a British prime minister had to worry about the global arms race.

“Today a British prime minister has to worry about the global skills race – because the nation that shows it can bring out the best in all its people will be the great success story of the coming decades.

“So it is time for a wake-up call for young people, employees and employers – that we now summon ourselves to a new national effort and mobilisation to win the new skills race.”

Skills secretary John Denham added: “In this rapidly changing world, Britain will only succeed if we develop the skills of our people to the fullest possible extent. Apprenticeships have a key role to play.”

The government has already increased the number of people starting apprenticeships, which has more than doubled over the past decade.

However, critics claim schemes are often beset by high drop-out rates and concerns have also been raised about low pay for trainees.

But celebrity entrepreneur Sir Alan Sugar backed the government’s initiative.

He said: “I am a great believer in apprenticeships because young people learn best on the job with a mentor who knows what they’re doing.

“If British industry is going to compete with the rest of the world, we’re going to need a trained workforce who are the best at what they do – that is why I back more apprenticeships for people in Britain.”

The Conservatives were sceptical at the announcement, with shadow skills secretary David Willetts pointing out the number of young people not in education or training has been rising under Labour.

The education foundation Edge also welcomed the review, saying it was time for the government to raise the profile of apprenticeships, including addressing the “massive lack” of apprenticeships available.

The foundation is calling for a government campaign to show how apprenticeships are equal to other forms of learning, for it to be made easier for small businesses to take on apprentices, and increased funding for the young apprenticeship programme for 14- and 15-year-olds.