Employers in England are being offered an extra £2,000 to take on teenagers, care leavers and those with special education needs as apprentices.
Under the plans, small businesses will be subsidised with 90% of the costs of providing apprenticeships.
Larger firms will be required to contribute 0.5% of their payroll to the new apprenticeships scheme from 2017.
Employers group the CBI said firms were ready to play their part but April’s proposed start date should be delayed.
The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) said keeping to the date was vital for achieving the government’s target for three million apprenticeships.
“Any delay would have made the task very difficult,” it said.
The government said its overall £2.5bn apprenticeships plan would help people of all ages gain high-quality skills and experience and build a talented workforce.
It also said it would help to ensure every young person, regardless of background or ability, had the chance to make their first step into work.
Manufacturers organisation EEF said: “Recruiting young people can sometimes be seen as a little riskier so today’s announcement is a nice sweetener and will act as an added incentive.”
Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Robert Halfon said: “We need to make sure people of all ages and backgrounds have a chance to get on in life. Apprenticeships give young people – especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds – a ladder of opportunity.
“That’s why we continue to work tirelessly to deliver the skills our country needs. The apprenticeship levy is absolutely crucial to this.”
The government say its plans also:
- offer more flexibility for employers to re-train individuals in new skills
- give employers more control and access to better quality training
- divide apprenticeships into 15 pay bands ranging from £1,500 to £27,000
CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn said business was ready to play its part. “However, the Apprenticeship Levy in its current form risks turning the clock back on recent progress through poor design and rushed timescales.”
General secretary of trade union group the TUC Frances O’Grady said: “After the vote to leave the EU, it is vitally important that we make a serious investment in skills.”
Jonathon Clifton of think tank, the Institute for Public Police Research, said the plans did not go far enough. “The proposed apprenticeship levy will still only cover 2% of employers,” he said.
“In the long term, the government should expand the levy to cover all employers – because every firm has a role to play in training up the next generation.”