The Government should be getting better value from the millions of pounds it invests in adult apprenticeships, the National Audit Office has warned.
The spending watchdog said apprenticeships currently yield £18 for every £1 of public spending.
But greater returns on the £500m annual investment could be achieved by ensuring employers pay their fair share towards training programmes and expanding their availability more evenly throughout the country.
Apprenticeships had expanded by 140 per cent over a four-year period from 2006/7, it said, with over 25-year-olds accounting for two thirds of the increase.
The biggest growth was in health and social care, customer services, retail, management and business administration; engineering and computing represented only two per cent each.
But while nine-tenths were satisfied with the standard of their training, a fifth lasted only six months and only a third were at an advanced level, compared to 60 per cent in France.
The apprenticeship programme is more effective than the Labour Government’s Train to Gain scheme, but the NAO said the Department for Business could gain better returns by targeting resources more at areas in need.
Amyas Morse, head of the NAO said: “The apprenticeships programme has been providing a good return for public spending. Nevertheless, the Department should set its sights higher in order to get better value from the £0.5bn pounds and rising now spent on adult apprenticeships each year.
“It needs to target resources more effectively, confirm the training provided is in addition to what would have been provided without public support and make sure that the funding system is informed by robust information on the cost of delivery.”
Skills Minister John Hayes said: “Unprecedented investment, backed by tough new measures to ensure that quality matches quantity, has helped make apprenticeships the gold standard vocational qualification.
“So I am delighted that the NAO has recognised the progress we have made and that they identify the extraordinary economic benefits of apprenticeships.”
The call for improvements in how apprenticeships are targeted came as the Co-operative Group announced it is to recruit 800 new apprentices this year, twice as many as in 2011.
The Co-op said its £9m apprenticeship academy is now on course to provide 2,000 places for young people by 2014.
Chief executive Peter Marks said: “Youth unemployment is spiralling with over one million 16 to 25-year-olds out of work. Coupled with the unpredictable economic future, it’s no surprise that some young people feel unsupported and demotivated.
“We believe businesses have a real responsibility to open doors for young people by giving them opportunities to gain new skills, knowledge and experience so that together we can build a strong and successful future for young people and our country.”