Apprentices are the way forward

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VERITY LUSH: Spending squillions to point out the blindingly obvious

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Last week was National Apprenticeships Week and I was fortunate enough to visit some of the many employers in Hampshire who are taking apprentices on, many of them for the first time.

Apprenticeships are a vital part of making our education system one that helps every young person achieve their potential and it is very exciting that the government has made such a point of championing them, both to young people and to employers.

For many young people, making the change from education to work is a difficult moment – there is a big difference between the atmosphere of a classroom and a working environment. Such a sudden change of environment, added to the other pressures of becoming an adult, can catch many young people unprepared and easing this transition is an important goal.

Apprenticeships are one way for us to help them to lay a solid foundation for their future and bridge this important moment in their lives. In addition to picking up practical experience, which you just cannot replicate in the classroom, establishing good working habits early on is itself a basic life skill which serves young people throughout their careers.

They are something the government have made a special point of supporting and rightly so. The latest figures show that in the 2010-11 academic year, 102,900 under-19s started an apprenticeship, compared to 93,700 the year before. That’s an increase of 10 per cent.

In East Hampshire, there has been an increase of more than 50 per cent in the number of people beginning apprenticeships over the last academic year, with 280 people taking up places in 2009-10 rising to 430 for the year 2010-11.

Companies with 50 employees or fewer can now receive a grant of up to £1,500 for taking on a first apprentice aged between 16 and 24. This is expected to support up to 20,000 new apprenticeships in 2012/13.

While any new public spending must be fully scrutinised during these tough time, investing in apprenticeships actually represents very good value for money for the taxpayer. According to a National Audit Office report, every pound of public money invested generates a return of £18.