Apprentice £7m cut 'to halve' places in Wales, body warns
Employers in Wales are likely to cut the number of apprentices they take on by almost half after ministers cut the budget by £7m, a trade body has warned.
The National Training Federation for Wales (NTfW) said almost 9,000 fewer work schemes will be available for young people by next April.
It said there was no slack in the apprenticeship programme to cut.
But the Welsh government said it was "delivering one of the most successful apprenticeship programmes in Europe".
The NTfW represents more than 100 firms and outlets providing work-based learning in Wales.
The businesses have said the 8,857 fewer apprenticeships will be on offer by the end of 2015, a drop of 49%, according to the training body.
NTfW's operations manager Jeff Protheroe said: "When you see the figures in black and white the only word to describe them is stark - 9,000 less apprentices than last year.
"Our members have been left scratching their heads because there was no slack in the apprenticeship programme to cut.
"It appears the government has received some bad advice.
"There is a feeling that the Welsh government is taking learning providers for granted because it knows that the network has consistently delivered excellent results and responded to the needs of the Welsh government over the past decade."
The organisation said it fears "even worse news is on the way" after being told ministers are planning a further £20m cut in apprenticeship programmes in March.
Mr Protheroe added: "The irony of the situation is that the budget cuts coincide with a national media campaign by the Welsh government promoting apprenticeships.
"Having created the demand for apprenticeships, the Welsh government is now unable to fulfil it."
The Welsh government said that its apprenticeship programme had "exceeded all anticipated targets" over a two-year period.
A spokesman said: "We have been open about the scale of the financial challenges we face. By 2015-16, the Welsh budget will be 10% lower in real terms than it was in 2010-11.
"However, reductions in the funding for apprenticeships are not across the board.
"We will direct our funding towards apprenticeships for those aged 16-24 as well as to higher level apprenticeships and traineeships."