John Lewis is taking on 80 apprentices in 2012 - and all of them will be guaranteed employment when their training is complete.
The department store said its ambition was to create a market-leading offer that creates new jobs for young people, and provides sustainable career paths, as well as a genuine alternative to university.
The programme features two levels; the Modern Apprenticeship Scheme, for those who have left school at the age of 16, and the Advanced Apprenticeship Scheme for young people who have already completed their A-Levels.
Both are one-year programmes and if completed successfully, apprentices on the Modern scheme will be rewarded the equivalent of five GCSEs and those on the Advanced scheme, the equivalent of two additional A-levels.
The rollout of the apprenticeship programme follows a successful pilot across five John Lewis shops in 2011. All apprentices will automatically become Partners and have access to all benefits and reward programmes.
John Lewis already offers vocational qualifications in a variety of areas, from retail and warehousing to leadership and barista skills.
Andy Street, managing director at John Lewis, said the programme acted as a primary source of recruitment for future talent at his company, as well as helping young people affected by unemployment.
“We have always employed a large number of young people, but our apprenticeships scheme really formalises this attitude...we have already been blown away by how savvy the young people from our first intake are," he added.
Future plans for the apprentice scheme included extending its scope by 25% next year and offering tailored programmes in retail and IT.
Elliot Racz , a 16-year-old applicant for the John Lewis 2012 Apprenticeship Scheme, is currently a selling assistant in the menswear department at John Lewis Cardiff:
“I knew an apprenticeship programme at John Lewis was a once in a lifetime opportunity and in just two months I’ve already learnt so much, from working in the fitting rooms to helping customers buy new shoes," he said in a statement.
"From the very start, I was treated like a fully-fledged member of the menswear department and given the same opportunities as all the other sales assistants.
"Although I enjoyed school, I really wanted to get out into the ‘real world’ and the programme has given me a kick start in getting a career.”
The government is encouraging many businesses to take on apprentices in a bid to help turn the tide against youth unemployment.
But a report from the department for business, innovation and skills in November 2012 revealed one in five apprentices get no training while working, and one in 20 are unpaid.
HM Revenue and Customs has said it is cracking down on the bad practice and is working to make sure that all apprentices are paid the national minimum wage.
Apprentices under 19 and those in their first year must get at least £2.65 an hour, according to current wage rules. But the survey found that those aged 16 or 17 are receiving an average hourly rate of just £2.71.
In addition, young female apprentices are earning up to a fifth less than their male peers, according to a report from Unesco.
It suggests apprenticeships are also more likely to go to men due to discrimination in the labour market, and the types of jobs for which training schemes are available.
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