YOUNG people in Bolton have been encouraged to take up apprenticeships by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith on a visit to the town.

Mr Duncan Smith met trainees at MBDA, the Lostock firm that builds missiles systems for more than 90 armed forces worldwide.

He was with Chris Green, prospective Conservative candidate for Bolton West, who will stand against Labour MP Julie Hilling at the 2015 general election.

MBDA employs 20 apprentices in Bolton at its site off Lostock Lane, where they learn about all aspects of the company over a four-year period.

Mr Duncan Smith said changing attitudes about apprentices and encouraging more people to look into applying for one has been a priority for the government.

He added: “Britain has had a bad track record for apprentices over the last 40 or 50 years.

“We can get ourselves into a position where the Germans are — where being an apprentice has the equivalent status of being at university, “One of the programmes we’ve got is to give someone who takes on an apprentice an early subsidy on the apprenticeships, which is worth about £1,500.

“There’s a big push at the moment to get this status of apprenticeships up, which it hasn’t been in the UK and should be, and at the same time to encourage greater diversity among people going into apprenticeships.”

Government figures show that 7.4 per cent of Bolton’s 18 to 24 year olds are on jobseekers allowance — equivalent to 1,870 young people.

Mr Duncan Smith said: “All the young kids say the problem they’ve got is that they go in front of an employer and they say: ‘Have you got any experience?’ “Their answer is ‘No’ because they can’t get employed because they don’t have experience.

“We have allowed them to have that two months where they will continue to get their benefits — but they can go and get experience in a company.

“What we have found is once you started connecting job seekers to the businesses, they start taking them on and creating a job around them, and once they had work experience on their CVs they get snapped up.”

Bernard Waldron, MBDA manufacturing director for the UK, said the company has benefited “tremendously” from apprentices, and has recruited 10 since September.

He added: “Apprentices offer a commitment from day one to the community and the business, and become integral members.

“They develop their skills and competencies while working in a way that is complementary to the business’s needs — so they are learning and working.”