In September, 600 students will begin studying for the new foundation-stage qualification at 13 universities and colleges.
Keith Brumfit, director of research and development at the Children's Workforce Development Council which is administering the course, said consultations had revealed that early-years staff would like the new qualification to be for graduates only.
"This is a new role," he told the annual conference of the Pre-School Learning Alliance in west London. "We will go with a wide range of potential candidates, not just those with an existing degree related to the early-years sector. We want somebody who can lead professional practice in a range of settings, somebody who can change and improve practice."
The aim of a formal qualification is to ensure children's centres and other settings are not seen as a sub-standard alternative to nursery schooling.
The new early-years professionals will work with children from birth up to the age of five.
The first trainees should qualify in January next year. Several thousand places on the new course will then become available, and more flexible training routes tried out.
Ruth Pimental, director of the foundation stage for the primary national strategy, also spoke at the conference. She emphasised the importance of catering to children's needs. "Play is a statutory way of supporting children's learning and development," she said. "When you're outdoors, and it's raining and miserable, that's the bit the children really, really enjoy."