All bidders for government contracts above £10m will be required to show a clear commitment to employ apprentices from September.
With more than £50bn spent on contracts by government each year, it is hoped the requirement will provide a significant boost in apprentice numbers and provide an example to the private sector.
Ministers have announced the move as part of a package of measures intended to increase the number of apprentices, along with a consultation on introducing an apprentice tax on businesses.
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Prime minister David Cameron said: “The greatest asset any employer has is their workforce. And by investing in them, they are investing in the success and future of their business.”
From 1 September, Crown Commercial Service (CCS) officials will compare bids against best practice for the number of apprentices they expect to support.
Firms winning tenders will then have the agreed apprenticeship numbers written into their contract so action can be taken if commitments are unmet.
The changes will apply to central government departments, executive agencies and non-departmental public bodies. Further details will be published by the CCS in “due course”, it said.
John Longworth, director general at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "Apprenticeship schemes can play a part in meeting important ambitions to boost skills and drive-up productivity. But for apprenticeships to take hold and become established, the focus should be on quality – not hitting an arbitrary figure. The conveyor belt model is not what business wants to see.”
He also said that the government needed to engage better with smaller firms to increase apprenticeship take-up.
“Government policy is currently too focused on major employers, but equal effort ought to be put on encouraging and supporting smaller businesses to offer apprenticeships.”