THE Fife Youth Job Contract, Fife's response to high levels of unemployment in 16- to 24-year-olds, was launched on Friday at the Carnegie Conference Centre in Dunfermline.

A massive �5 million fund has been allocated by Fife Council to deliver up to 600 apprenticeships over the next three years.

To date, 168 apprentices have been signed up by local companies through the scheme, which is being delivered by the partnership of Opportunities Fife.

Leader of Fife Council, Councillor Alex Rowley, said, "In these difficult economic times it is crucial that Fife Council does all it can to support young people to get the training and skills to support them into work.

"The funding has been made available to ensure that we have the resources in place to secure training and apprenticeships across a wide range of sectors.

"We are pleased with the progress being made and the partnership approach with employers and would encourage more employers to become involved with the council scheme.

"I am also delighted to announce that another �1 million annually has now been committed by Fife Council towards creating employment and training opportunities for Fife's young people within Fife Council, and this year will see the creation of 70 posts.

"Today sees the advertisement of over half these opportunities - roles in education, social work, finance and business administration with other roles being advertised over the coming weeks." He added, "We are also putting in place a programme which aims to support looked-after children and care leavers, as this group faces multiple barriers into employment.

"Since 2005 there has been a 48 per cent increase in the total number of 18-24-year-olds claiming job seekers allowance and recent figures showed the levels of young people out of work or training is continuing to grow.

"The council is working with the Fife Chamber of Commerce and the Fife Federation of Small Businesses, Fife's colleges as well as many individual employers to address the situation." Keith Winter, head of enterprise, planning and protective services, said, "We are delighted with the progress to date of the Fife Youth Job contract. The commitment of employers has been commendable.

"We hope to build on this success as it is vital that we have the skills in place to meet the demands of business in the future.

"Already, there has been a significant investment in apprenticeships through the scheme by major Fife companies like BiFab and Havelock Europa, who are giving additional opportunities to young people who may not have had the chance previously.

"We want to engage with companies of all sizes and across all sectors to engage with this initiative." The funding aim of the Fife Youth Job Contract is to provide guaranteed employment for 16-24-year-olds who are registered unemployed.

It is targeted at those who are at risk of not achieving a positive outcome.

They are employed for a period of between 26 and 52 weeks and receive on-the-job training.

Opportunities Fife is a partnership between Fife Council, Skills Development Scotland, Department of Work & Pensions, the voluntary sector, the regional college and NHS Fife.