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Hundreds of thousands of young people are being pushed into “meaningless” apprenticeships, that are worth little more than a handful of GCSE’s.

The government’s fixation with achieving apprenticeship targets is allowing businesses to cut employment costs, by replacing minimum wage workers and higher-paid employees with £2.73 an hour 18-year-old apprentices. The current national minimum wage for this age group is nearly double the apprenticeship rate, at £5.13 an hour.

Exploitative schemes include low-paid jobs re-branded as apprenticeships in street cleaning, catering, laboring and retail.

Professor Alison Wolf, who led a review into vocational education in 2011, said the Government’s “mad and artificial” target “risks undermining the reputation of apprenticeships”.

Figures show that less than 3% of new apprenticeships advertised toward young people offer high-level qualifications – equivalent to a foundation degree – upon completion, the Mirror reports today.

And there has only been around 220 newly created apprenticeships in science and maths, at any level, in the last year.

The Tory Government has set itself a target of creating three million apprenticeships by 2020. But less than one in five new apprenticeships are in engineering and manufacturing – business sectors where there is believed to be a shortage in skilled workers.

Government figures, analysed by the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CSE), show only 7,500 new job starts in degree level apprenticeships between August 2014 and January this year.

Only around 92,700 people began “advanced” apprenticeships – equivalent to two A-levels. Meanwhile, 148,300 began “intermediate” level apprenticeships, which are equivalent to just five GCSE passes.

CSE acting director Naomi Weir said: “The political narrative is about high-level, technical, graduate-equivalent apprenticeships whereas the reality is that there are only a few thousand of these across the whole apprenticeship system.

“That is not a viable alternative to university. It could be but there needs to be a lot of effort to get us into a position of having a high-level technical system that we need to run alongside higher education.”

Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary, Chuka Umunna, described the figures as “scandalous” and criticised Government ministers over their failure to address the problem.

“Britain has a dire shortage of STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] skills, and this demonstrates that ministers are not addressing this problem”, he said.

A Government business spokesperson dismissed the figures and insisted they would “make sure apprenticeships provide the skills needed to grow our economy”.

They added: “Engineering and manufacturing is the third-most popular subject for an apprenticeship, and the Trailblazer programme gives young people the chance to ply their trade in sectors as diverse as fashion, banking, law and nuclear fusion.”

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