The Liberal Democrats have joined the apprenticeship numbers race, matching Tory plans to create 3m starts in the next Parliament by doubling the number of businesses with apprentices.
The party has announced it will push starts past the 3m by 2020 if it wins the election by giving out 200,000 extra apprenticeship grants for employers (AGE) and continuing with government plans to scrap employer national insurance contributions for apprentices under 25.
The Lib Dems claim they will use the incentives to double the number of businesses hiring apprentices, from 180,000 to 360,000, by the end of the next parliament, which they say will lead to a rise in the number of starts per year to 600,000 a year by 2019/20.
The party had initially resisted plans to join what has been described as a numbers race on apprenticeships. During the party conference season last summer it remained quiet on a numbers target despite a pledge by the Tories to boost starts to 3m by 2020 and a promise by Labour that as many learners would do apprenticeships as go to university by the end of the parliament.
But in a statement, business secretary Vince Cable (pictured) said he wanted to beat Germany on the number of employers providing apprenticeships, in order to equip young people with “the skills they need for the future”.
He said: “The world is changing at an accelerated rate and we need equip our young people with the skills they need for the future, to ensure they can compete in a global market place, in ever changing technologies and the digital economy.
“That is why the Liberal Democrats will double the number of employers providing apprenticeships over the next five years and create more apprenticeship starts per year than Germany.
“To achieve these objectives requires significant investment in skills by both government and the private sector. As we grow our economy, the Liberal Democrats believe we must enhance adult skills training and our further education colleges.”
The Lib Dems have also pledged to open more national colleges and to focus on apprenticeships at level four and above in areas where there are skills shortages.
But Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Stewart Segal has warned that increases in the number of employers offering apprenticeships could be hampered by impending reforms.
He said: “We share the ambition to significantly increase the number of employers offering apprenticeships but doubling the number will mean that we have to get the current reforms for the programme right in terms of not creating potential barriers against employer engagement such as mandatory cash contributions and adding complexity to the system.”