A new £50 million Government funding package for schools and colleges that offer vocational diplomas in areas such as engineering to pupils has been welcomed by manufacturers in the Midlands.

Engineering will be one of the first subjects to benefit from the scheme, which is aimed at 14 to 19-year-olds, when it starts in 2008.

The extra money will be allocated to specific training programmes and dedicated teaching resources as well as recruiting additional vocational teaching staff.

But the EEF backed calls by Association of Learning Providers chief executive Graham Hoyle for apprenticeships to be given the same status as the new diploma.

Bill Nicholls, director of education and training development at the EEF, said: "The announcement by the Government of extra funding for the diploma programme is very welcome and we believe this can only be good news for the sector in years to come.

"Engineering is facing a huge skills shortage in the future and any action taken to address this has to be welcomed. We are concerned that pupils who choose to follow the apprenticeship route are increasingly disadvantaged.

"We would like to see a situation where, when a pupil decides they want to do a diploma in engineering they will have two equal choices.

"One would allow them to study at a sixth form college, while the other would allow them to choose the apprenticeship route.

"We are asking the Minister of State for Schools to allow students who prefer to do an apprenticeship to be awarded the diploma as part of their apprenticeship qualification."