A Training and Enterprise Council chief has launched a scathing attack on the "conspiratorial" neglect of work-based learning by academics, civil servants and politicians.
Policy-makers and further and higher education leaders have been promoting full-time education for young people at the expense of training in work which would often be more appropriate for them, according to John Troth, chairman of the North East Wales TEC and a member of the TEC national council.
The move to sell full-time courses to as many people of school-leaving age as possible has been driven by financial motives and a "dismissive" attitude towards training in the workplace, said Mr Troth, who helped develop the Modern Apprenticeship scheme.
"We know there are people in positions of authority who want to ensure that young people will abandon the idea of a work-based route and push them instead through full-time education. Yet the Modern Apprenticeship programme has shown that there is a large chunk of young people who would benefit from continuing their education in the workplace rather than in institutions geared to full-time academic study.
"Our conclusion is that the work-based training route is the most relevant one for most young people, particularly if it is accompanied by the promise of a job," he said.
Pilots for the Modern Apprenticeship scheme have been running for a year, overseen by Industry Training Organisations in 17 occupational areas. According to TEC estimates, more than 1,400 young people have so far taken part in the scheme. From September programmes will be offered nationally in 50 occupational areas, and the new Accelerated Modern Apprenticeship programme for 18-19 year-olds holding A levels or Advanced General National Vocational Qualifications will also come on stream.
Mr Troth said profiles of Modern Apprenticeship students had shown they were not joining the scheme as a soft option. More than 60 per cent held at least five GCSEs at grades A to C. Yet "heavyweight" academics and some politicians seemed determined to neglect this learning route in favour of full-time education. Institutions in particular had an interest in maintaining that position.
"Their sole strategy is to get as many youngsters on full-time courses as possible, because that is where most of their funding comes from. But they are also motivated by their dismissive attitude towards work-based training," he said.
One symptom of this was the preference among schools and colleges for the largely classroom-based GNVQs rather than NVQs, which have a large element of work-based assessment.
"It is to be hoped that the new Department for Education and Employment will take the opportunity to give a higher priority to the interests of employers in this respect," he added.