THE Government has been urged to improve the quality of apprenticeships, including the introduction of a new work-based programme to help jobseekers.

Ministers agreed that the bar on apprenticeships must be raised after an independent review by entrepreneur Doug Richard called for improvements.

He recommended that apprenticeships should be redefined, with one qualification for each occupation, while everyone on a programme should reach a good level in English and maths.

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His report recommended that a new work-based programme should be launched to support entry into employment, which should replace level two apprenticeships.

It followed a damning report from the all-party Business Select Committee inquiry earlier this month which said the Government’s drive to get as many people on apprenticeships as possible had compromised on quality.

The committee noted that the increase in apprenticeships, with 457,200 people starting schemes in the past year, had mainly been among over-25s rather than teenage jobseekers. Furthermore, the Government’s decision to replace the Train to Gain scheme of workplace training with adult apprenticeships had put an artificial gloss on the figures.

Mr Richard, founder of School for Startups, said: “Apprenticeships need to be high quality training with serious kudos and tangible value to the apprentice and employer.

‘‘I want to hear about an 18- year-old who looked at their options and turned down a place at Oxbridge to take up an apprenticeship if that is the right path for them and I want to hear that their parents were thrilled.’’ Ministers said they will respond to the recommendations in the new year.

The North East Chamber of Commerce’s policy advisor, Helen Hayes, said: “We welcome the recommendations contained in the review, which will help ensure apprenticeships are seen as a high-quality training option by businesses.

“It is vital that, rather than solely increasing numbers of apprenticeship opportunities, the future focus will be on the prioritisation of outcomes and improved skill levels.”

TUC general secretarydesignate Frances O’Grady said: “Failure to ensure quality devalues the apprenticeship brand and undermines the work of the many good employers and apprenticeship schemes currently on offer.”

The Institution of Engineering and Technology said that rebalancing the economy will require qualified, skilled engineers and technicians at all levels.

Paul Davies, the institution’s head of policy, said: “Young people and their parents must be confident that the career path they choose will lead to a real job and exciting opportunities.

“We need to promote the fact that a high-quality apprenticeship can be just the beginning of a rewarding, exciting engineering career.”

The institution also believes reform is needed to ensure that schools promote all engineering career routes, including apprenticeships.