Britain will encourage companies to take on more apprentices by offering 250 million pounds for skills training after youth unemployment hit a 19-year high, Prime Minister David Cameron said on Thursday.

Companies will be able to bid for the funds, reallocated from existing government skills budgets, to design vocational courses to suit their specific needs and will be expected to invest their own money alongside.

The scheme is designed to be more flexible than current state support for vocational training, much of which is tied to specific programmes or directed to further education colleges.

I hope this radical new approach will encourage even more employers to take on apprentices and ensure that the UK work force has the skills we need to boost growth, Cameron said.

The scheme is one of number of measures that finance minister George Osborne will detail later this month in a growth review aimed at reviving an economy that has barely expanded over the past 12 months.

The funding will be split over 24 months, with 50 million pounds available next year, rising to 200 million the year after.

The number of young Britons out of work rose above the politically sensitive 1 million mark for the first time since comparable records began in 1992, data showed on Wednesday, taking the jobless rate among eligible 16- to 24-year-olds to 21.9 percent.

(Reporting by Tim Castle; Editing by Leslie Adler)