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Jon Kennard

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Apprenticeship auction: Employers asked to bid for chunk of £250m

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In a bid to try and tackle soaring youth unemployment, the Coalition Government is asking employers to bid for a chunk of a £250m pot next year to take on new apprentices.
The news came only weeks after the leak of a document from Business Secretary Vince Cable’s department revealing that official apprenticeship figures had been exaggerated. Concerns were also raised about the quality of existing schemes and the low level of representation among the under-25 age group.
This latest money, which is to be diverted from colleges and other training providers, will be given directly to individual companies, or groups of collaborating companies, however. To qualify for the grants, they will have to demonstrate how they will use it to support apprenticeship schemes, while also showing a “commitment to raising skills levels in their sector or supply chain”.
The funding available for the 2012/13 financial year will go up to £50m, with an additional £200m being released in the following year “subject to evidence of high quality proposals from employers and ongoing evaluation”.
Cable said: “Despite some good progress, our system needs more flexibility and we are treading water by international standards.”
As a result, it was necessary to “fundamentally alter” the relationship between employers and the state by giving the former “the space and opportunity for greater ownership of the vocational skills agenda, including the chance to bid for direct control of public funds” in order to encourage more competition, he added.
This approach of enabling employers to bid for grants and use the funds in the way they see fit was one championed by non-Departmental public body, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills.
Charlie Mayfield, chairman of both the Commission and the John Lewis Partnership, said: “Too often the skills system appears to businesses as a government-led enterprise rather than one led by employers. We need more businesses working together with their supply chains, sectors or localities to develop the skills they need.”
The Government expects to jointly issue a formal prospectus on the fund with the Commission in early 2012, with the aim of seeing projects start later that year. It also plans to announce further initiatives around education and skills, infrastructure, logistics, mid-sized businesses, the rural economy and open data later this month in an attempt to stimulate the UK’s flagging economy.

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Jon Kennard

Freelance writer

Read more from Jon Kennard
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