One in 10 apprentices in England works at Morrisons

Morrisons shop Morrisons is the UK's fourth largest supermarket

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One in 10 apprenticeships created in England last year was at Morrisons supermarkets, the BBC's Panorama programme has learned.

But most of the 52,000 apprentices at the supermarket giant were existing employees who were over 25.

The company said it was fulfilling a commitment to offer more of its employees a formal qualification.

Critics say the money being poured into private training schemes should be creating new jobs and improving skills.

Profit-taking

In 2011, the government in England spent £1bn to create more than 450,000 apprenticeships, a 63% rise on the previous year.

The Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee has questioned the money being paid to Elmfield Training, the private company that has a £37m government contract to train apprentices and which runs Morrisons' apprenticeship scheme.

Start Quote

When supermarkets are just saying we've got apprentice shelf-stackers... all they're really doing is undervaluing the word apprentice”

End Quote Charlie Mullins Pimlico Plumbers

Ged Syddall, CEO of Elmfield, was questioned by MPs about the £12m profit reported by his company in 2010 - all of it from government funding. Mr Syddall personally took home nearly £3m in dividend.

This is despite Ofsted inspectors giving the firm only a "satisfactory" rating while the majority of colleges that provide training have been rated as "good" or "outstanding" by Ofsted.

Almost 40% of the food retailer's workforce are enrolled in the apprenticeship scheme, which takes an average of six months to complete.

Apprentices learn about customer service, inventories, stock-taking, and working at the cash-till.

Norman Pickavance, Morrisons' HR director, said his firm was committed to giving its employees formal qualifications.

"People who do not leave school with a qualification often feel that they do not have access and do not see the kind of skilled jobs or managerial positions as something they can aspire to."

Loophole

Charlie Mullins, managing director of Pimlico Plumbers in London, said the notion of a true apprenticeship was being put in jeopardy, because of the length of time Morrisons apprentices take to qualify - six months versus three years for an apprentice plumber.

"When supermarkets are just saying we've got apprentice shelf-stackers and apprentice people pushing a broom round, I think all they're really doing is undervaluing the word apprentice.

"They're actually I think just seeing a loophole in the system that they can claim money on it."

Mr Mullins said his business employs 18 apprentices out of a staff of 200 and is committed to skilled training that includes evening college and day release college time.

Panorama: The Great Apprentice Scandal, BBC One, Monday, 2 April at 20:30 BST and then available in the UK on the BBC iPlayer.

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