Young people get the most out of apprenticeships if they carry out work experience or related vocational study beforehand, research has shown.
The report by Ofsted found those with some previous experience were more likely to make good progress in their apprenticeships than those starting straight from school.
Providers surveyed in the best practice report said that good training in key and functional skills such as English and maths was seen as more relevant by young people when it was put into context and used in relation to the skills associated with the young person's apprenticeship and helped them to see the real benefits of improving them.
Those who had not done so well at school said they could see the point of maths in particular when they would be using it as part of their jobs.
Meanwhile employers and trainers felt that the most important attributes of a potential apprentice were the right attitude and commitment to employment.
The research found that work experience in the area that interested the young person was seen as a positive force in equipping them with an appropriate work ethic and basic employment skills.
But despite the benefits of work experience, the employers questioned in the survey said that the number of students they could accommodate on placements was restricted because so many schools ask for placements during the same short period at the end of the academic year.
Apprenticeships play a key role in the government's strategy to develop the skills of the workforce and to promote the growth and rebalancing of the nation's economy.
Ofsted's national director for learning and skills Matthew Coffey said: "There has been much concern lately about the quality of apprenticeships.
"When looking at the national picture we can see that around 70% of apprenticeships are good or outstanding but more needs to be done to improve provision further.
"The apprenticeships for young people best practice report will provide a vast pool of knowledge and examples on how to deliver apprenticeships successfully and will act as a useful guide for trainers, assessors and educational leaders wishing to improve.
"It is clear that more work experience, vocational study and course tasters are needed to ensure learners are on the right apprenticeship for them and that they understand the demands of work."
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: "We know the value of work experience, which is why we are creating an extra 250,000 places for 18 to 24-year-olds over the next three years as part of the Youth Contract.
"Work experience has already given thousands of young and long-term unemployed people a break, giving them practical hands-on experience and boosting their chances of getting a permanent job or an apprenticeship."
Chris Keates, general secretary of teachers' union NASUWT, said: "It is ironic that this report highlights the value of high-quality work experience and vocational education at a time when the coalition Government has chosen to take an axe to work experience and denigrated vocational education.
"Massive social and economic problems will develop if urgent action is not taken to invest in young people and equip them with the skills and opportunities to build a better future for themselves and the country."