David Rogers, chairman of the Association of Learning Providers, told its first annual conference that they must influence the 14-plus curriculum and provide real work experience and training.
The ALP, formed to create a voice for work-based providers, is questioning ministers' insistence that key skills should form part of on-the-job training, and says they should be provided in schools, leaving employers to concentrate on vocational training.
Mr Rogers said: "Key skills testing is not mandatory in schools, colleges or universities, so why is it in apprenticeships? The rules (of work-based learning) are different. Decisions based on educational norms don't fit."