The rise in apprenticeships is "deceptive", according to Lord Adonis, who warns there is a "black hole" for thousands of young people.
In an exclusive blog for The Huffington Post UK, the Labour peer said apprenticeships "should not be dumbed down", and many are being awarded to young people in their 20s, instead of teenagers.
"Apprenticeship numbers are deceptive," he writes. "Most "apprentices" are well into their 20s, and are in reality mainstream employees. Seventy per cent of apprentices were working for the same company prior to becoming an apprentice.
"Apprenticeships must be more than a re-branding of in-work training if they are going to have a substantive impact on the future economy and the life chances of our young people."
On Monday, which marks the beginning of National Apprenticeship Week, Adonis will be speaking at a conference which will highlight the role trade unions play in supporting apprenticeships. Hosted by Unionlearn, the conference, of which HuffPost UK is a partner, will also launch the "I'm an apprentice value me" campaign.
"Apprentices are more than just numbers," says director of Unionlearn Tom Wilson. We need to ensure that every young person going through an apprenticeship is being properly valued. It is essential that they feel valued both in terms
of their pay and their experience."
In 2011, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills produced a survey which found nearly 20% of apprentices are not being paid the wages they are entitled to. Some industries are particularly bad, with nearly half of all apprentices in hairdressing, a third of those in construction and over a quarter of apprentices in childcare reporting that they are not being paid the amount which they are entitled to.
The campaign has been launched to inform those considering an apprenticeship of what to expect, and helps employers ensure they are offering good quality, well paid placements.
Adam, an apprentice at naval support business Babcock Marine said: "I feel valued when I meet up with my gang in the morning, see my boss and he says, ‘There you are, Adam, job for you, crack on with that, any problems, come and see me’. And I’ll go off and do this job by myself and that’s what makes me feel most valued.”
Ashok, who is working at Rolls Royce added: "One of the best things about doing an apprenticeship is you get to see so many different areas and learn different skills. So you don’t have to go into a job and sit there for five years: you can find out what you like and what you don’t like and adjust your skills accordingly."
Lord Adonis called for higher level apprenticeships, saying: " We need far more higher level apprenticeships, especially in engineering, where there is an acute shortage of graduates."
Just half of the 126,000 apprenticeships under 19 are studying at the equivalent of A-level or higher.
"Secondly, apprenticeships need to last a decent length of time," Adonis adds. "Over recent years, almost half of all apprenticeships have lasted a year or less - many a matter of weeks. No university would award a degree on this basis. Apprenticeships should not be dumbed down either."
On Monday, David Cameron is expected to pledge to make apprenticeships the "new norm" for school leavers who opt out of university.
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