Morrisons boasts that it is the UK’s biggest provider of apprenticeships, although in reality the funding is claimed from the Skills Funding Agency by the independent training provider Elmfield Training Ltd.

In the context of a national record number of apprentices (see page 1), what stands out is the rapid increase in adults aged 25 and over participating in their programme.

Figures obtained by FE Week from the Skills Funding Agency, and confirmed as correct by Elmfield Training Ltd, show that so far in 2010/11 there have been nearly 18,000 apprenticeship starts in Level 2 Retail. Incredibly, not only does this make up for 15 per cent of all 25+ apprentice starts in England so far in 2010/11, but this was from a standing start as no Morrisons apprentices over the age of 25 were started in the previous year (see figures below).

Julian Bailey, Head of Media Relations at Wm Morrison Supermarkets plc, said: “We think apprenticeships are important for new and existing staff as a way of developing and enhancing skills and work very closely with Elmfield Training in all aspects of apprenticeships”

Simon Shaw from Elmfield Training Ltd said: “Morrisons is the largest employer we work with, and supports the government’s skills and employability agendas in multiple ways, including 16-18 year olds, 19-24 NEETs and adults in local communities without prior qualifications.”

As reported in the last edition of FE Week Elmfield saw their total apprenticeship funding allocation increase in 2010/11 by £21m (to over £40m) at quarter two (quarter three figures have yet to be released by the Skills Funding Agency) and enjoyed pre-tax profits last year of £12.3m on a £33.8m turnover.

The Skills Funding Agency has also confirmed that whilst Elmfield has been planning Morrisons apprenticeship programmes to take just over a year, in fact the average actual duration has been just 28 weeks.

At the time of going to press neither Morrisons nor Elmfield Training Ltd were able to say whether a cash employer contribution was being exchanged.

Elmfield Training Ltd has yet to be inspected as a lead provider by Ofsted.