A new scheme to be launched in the UK will enable school children as young as 14 to take two days off school each week for vocational training in the workplace.
The scheme will also be extended to adults aged over 25.
A thousand training places are to be offered from September 2004 in the engineering, business administration and arts and media sectors.
At the launch of the programme, Education and skills secretary Charles Clarke and Chancellor of the exchequer Gordon Brown said that the reforms to the old Modern Apprenticeships scheme were designed to deliver a more flexible, stronger apprenticeship 'ladder of opportunity' beginning at the age of 14 and act as a boost to business and productivity.
"Apprenticeships are one of the best ways we can fill our skills gaps," said Clarke. "They provide young people and adults with an 'on-the-job' training experience which gives them the direct skills needed in the workforce."
The 'Young Apprenticeships' for 14-16 year olds will be complemented by 'Pre-Apprenticeships' based on the 'Entry to Employment' programme for young people who have potential but are not yet ready or able to enter an full apprenticeship scheme or are disengaged and disenfranchised from learning.
The new scheme will also see a major advertising campaign to encourage more businesses to take part.
The chairman of the government's Apprenticeship Task Force, Centrica CEO Sir Roy Gardner, said: "We want to encourage more business leaders to consider the value apprenticeships would bring to their businesses."
The changes come only weeks after the British Chambers of Commerce called on the government to abandon its 50 per cent target for young people entering Higher Education and to focus instead on vocational training to solve growing skills shortages.