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09/03/2015 09:36 GMT | Updated 09/03/2015 09:59 GMT

National Apprenticeship Week: MPs Demand More As Numbers Are 'Too Low'

The Government has been urged to increase apprenticeships after MPs warned the number of youngsters involved remained too low.

Despite "significant" improvements in the past year, overall numbers have not increased, according to the Education Select Committee.

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The MPs also warned that excessive emphasis on apprenticeships to combat youth unemployment risked reinforcing the "myth" that they were a second class option.

"The central challenge for the Government is to incentivise an increase in the number of young people undertaking apprenticeships at the same time as improving the quality of provision and its impact on earnings," said the committee's report.

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The report, covering 16 to 19-year-olds, said the Government's plan to extend apprenticeships to other sectors, should not sacrifice quality.

"There was a modest increase in 2013/14 in the number of starts for 16, 17 and 18-year-olds compared with 2012/13, up to 119,760 from 114,550, but the number of apprenticeship starts for this age group remains lower than in 2010/11, when there were 129,890 starts," said the MPs.

"Although direct comparisons between the years before and after 2011/12 are not possible due to changes in the way data is collected, the general trend shows little or no increase in overall numbers of starts for 16 to 19-year-olds over the last five years."

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Conservative MP Graham Stuart, who chairs the committee, said: "The number of high quality apprenticeships for young people lasting at least 12 months has doubled during the current Parliament, but overall participation by 16 to 19-year-olds still remains too low.

"Only those apprenticeships which offer substantial training and have a positive impact on income for those who complete them should receive Government funding. Better data on outcomes and continued efforts to expand the number of participating employers can lead to more applicants and more places.

"Apprenticeships are a viable, high-quality alternative to more academic routes and should not be seen or presented as a second class option for young people. Strong efforts must be made to challenge prevailing attitudes that unduly favour academic routes and block access to information about apprenticeships."

Mr Stuart said schools should give pupils "far better" information on apprenticeships as well as the potential value of early experience in the workplace.

The Government was urged to review incentives for schools to provide good quality careers advice.

University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt said: "The Government's efforts to expand apprenticeships should be applauded but ministers must recognise that one size simply doesn't fit all. Flexibility is crucial in order to cater for the needs of different types of students and employers.

"Linking apprenticeships to youth unemployment and stripping away funding for other types of courses risks damaging their status as a high-quality training option.

"We welcome the report's emphasis on the importance of careers advice and support moves to ensure all young people get better advice from an early age."

An Education Department spokesman said: "This Government has significantly raised the quality of apprenticeships and introduced traineeships to ensure young people have the skills that employers need, and it is hugely encouraging that today's report recognises this.

"We welcome the report's recognition that the number of high-quality apprenticeships for young people has doubled and that apprenticeships offer excellent opportunities for young people and should not be seen as a second class option.

"On the eve of National Apprenticeships Week, this is also a timely reminder to employers of the value of apprenticeships and traineeships, and we would urge those who are not doing so already to take this opportunity to offer them."