After a steep decline in the 1970s and '80s, apprenticeships enjoyed a renaissance under the last Labour administration, and the Coalition government has pledged support for a further 75,000 apprenticeships. The attraction of apprenticeships, which bridge the school-to-work transition by combining paid work with learning, is a response to the disappearing youth labour market over the past three decades. Economic and social changes since the late 1970s have made it harder to move straight from school into work. With youth unemployment at a record high, the need to provide routes into employment for school leavers is ever more pressing.
Apprenticeships - and vocational education more generally - play a key role in supporting young people's transitions into work and responsibility in many northern European countries and in some other Anglo-Saxon countries, notably Australia. Rates of youth unemployment in these countries are much lower than in England.
To replicate this success, however, would be no mean feat. Employer demand for apprentices has been persistently low compared to countries with strong apprenticeship systems. There is also evidence that the quality of apprenticeships in England varies widely across sectors, being much lower in those where apprenticeships are not traditional.
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