Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sugar-Coated Apprentice Gimmick Hard To Swallow

Disillusioned youngsters have been left in the lurch after a government apprenticeship 'gimmick' fronted by BBC personality, Alan Sugar, failed to lure them on to meaningless college courses to stave off a life on the dole. Even a spoonful of Sugar couldn't help the Brown medicine go down.

The cunning plan has come unstuck with millions squandered on a gimmick fronted by a TV celebrity rewarded with a peerage for services to celebrity.

A government website set up to boost apprenticeships has been branded an "expensive gimmicky failure" by the Tories after filling a paltry 1,185 vacancies out of the 18,000 advertised, with only one apprentice hired for every 25 vacancies since the website began in January.

Quick to defend the discredited scheme, the Department for Skills resorted to the old trick of comparing like with unlike, pointing out that 225,000 people started an apprenticeship last year compared to 65,000 in 1996-97.

But to compare apprenticeships from the late Nineties to the current flammed up mishmash is highly misleading. As usual, scratch the surface and the spin and hype is not too hard to find. It's all in a name.

Most of the much vaunted 225,000 "apprenticeships" are in fact just college 'programme-led' apprenticeship courses. Way back in 1996/7 similar state-funded "youth training programmes" were not even called apprenticeships.

Then move the goalposts and lower the bar so that lesser qualifications now count as "apprenticeships", as fed-up industry leaders have been quick to point out.

And to cap it all, million of pounds has been squandered on the process rather than the outcome, with a whopping £2.85m a year spent on advertising and promoting the scheme, to little avail.

Sugar, the face of BBC's The Apprentice and now government enterprise tsar, was controversially picked by celebrity obsessed Brown as the face of the pre-election campaign to pluck 400,000 apprentices out of thin air by 2020.

But launching the National Apprenticeship Matching Service earlier this year with a television advertising campaign failed to improve the rate at which young people are placed in work training.

Sugar's appointment and peerage has already got up the nose of the Tories after the BBC in its wisdom reckoned there was no conflict of interest with his BBC TV work and a plumb government job coming as it does so close to a general election. And on top of that Siralan is reported to be threatening to sue Mail sketch writer, Quentin Letts, for having the gall to call him names.

But Brown spin is in a pickle after announcing it would fund an extra 35,000 apprenticeships to tackle the recession depression, at a cost of £140m.

Goodness knows something needs to be done to attract and keep young people into training with meaningful apprenticeships with the promise of a real job at the end of the day.

But a hyped up dodgy gimmick full of style and no substance fronted by a TV personality, who was ennobled as a reward, pulling the wool over young eyes, is no way to go about it.

Apprenticeships are the key to helping young victims of Brown self-inflicted recession. But celebrity gimmicks and silly colleges courses only lull youngsters into a false sense of security. The future lies in directly funded apprenticeship 'places' at the workplace with real support to firms running the schemes.

But faced with a deliberately decimated manufacturing industry and a government still pinning its hopes on a financial and media industry now on its last legs, there's no wonder New Labour is forced to play silly buggers with the hopes and the future of the country's young people.

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