Scottish government accused of 'massaging' apprenticeship figures
The number of young people being offered apprenticeships is being "massaged" by the Scottish government, according to Scottish Labour.
Kezia Dugdale, Labour's youth employment spokeswoman, says four out of 10 young people offered places last year had already been working for more than six months.
She has accused the government of letting young people down.
Ministers said they were committed to maximising young Scots' employability.
They stressed that in order to get a place on an apprenticeship programme people must already be in work.
In its election manifesto, the SNP pledged to help young Scots struggling to find work, promising 25,000 apprenticeship places a year.
But Ms Dugdale said 39% of people starting modern apprenticeship (MA) programmes last year had already been working in their current job for more than six months, and 61% had been in post for up to six months.
Among 16 to 19-year-olds, the figure for those in work for less than six months was 81% - with 19% having been in their job for longer than that.
The Labour MSP obtained the figures in a letter from government agency, Skills Development Scotland.
She told BBC Scotland: "I have had to drag these figures tooth and nail out of this government agency.
"These figures show that 10,000 people studying for modern apprenticeships were already in work for six months before they started it.
"There's another figure there, 15,000 people who were already in work for six months or less. It is my view that many of these people were already established in their jobs before they were put onto modern apprenticeships."
She added: "What the government is doing here is re-badging people in work as apprenticeships to hit their top-line figure and the 100,000 young Scots who are on the dole queue are suffering as a consequence."
Speaking on Sunday Politics Scotland, Education and Lifelong Learning Secretary, Mike Russell, said it was a "disgrace" that the Labour party, who voted against modern apprenticeships, were "running down Scotland's young people".
He said: "What happens is an employer will take a young person in and assess their suitability for a modern apprenticeship, or maybe they will start them in there before they send them to college.
"Every single young person of the 25,000 young apprenticeships in Scotland has to have a job. It is what distinguishes modern apprenticeships from everything else. They have to work."
He added: "Every single publicly-funded modern apprenticeship is helping young people in their careers to get jobs. We should be celebrating that, we should not be criticising young people getting jobs."
A spokesman for Skills Development Scotland said: "When an MA starts with an employer they do not always commence their training straight away.
"This can be for a variety of reasons such as college term times being some months off or the employer wishing to ensure the trainee will provide a return on their significant investment.
"MAs are geared towards helping new recruits but also the up-skilling of existing employees to gain invaluable skills and industry recognised qualifications."
He added: "The 16 to 19 years age bracket is a priority and the majority of these MAs are newly employed."
A spokesman for the Scottish government said it was "committed to maximising the employability of young people."
He highlighted that in the past 12 months ministers had invested more than £70m in the apprenticeship programme.
The Scottish Parliament is due to debate Youth Employment later this week.