Take-up of modern apprenticeships trebled between 1996 and 1997 but they are still the post-school choice of only 10 per cent of young people, compared to two-thirds in Germany.
In a report the Centre for Economic Performance says it wants to see twice as many new apprenticeships by 2003, with a third of all young people choosing to continue their training through the route by 2008.
Since the scheme's introduction in 1995, the profile of apprentices has changed considerably. Entrants over the age of 18, often with A-levels or degrees, now outnumber the 16 to 18-year-olds for whom it was originally devised.
Apprenticeships in new areas such as business administration and the service sector have changed the scheme's bias from "overwhelmingly male" to 40 per cent female.
But despite the introduction of the training requirement to NVQ level 3 with key skills, the report's author's were mystified as to why more young people were not queuing up to join.
"The apprenticeships are seen as a dead end," said Hilary Steedman, one of the report's authors.
The report recommends apprenticeships should offer an alternative route to higher education. They should also be underpinned by a "technical knowledge" component to make them as educationally valuable as those in other European countries.
The report also suggests cutting wages to provide more places.German apprentices receive one- third of the wage of a skilled employee. In the UK they might get half.
"Apprenticeship: a strategy for growth", published by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, price Pounds 15.