Schools, hospitals and prisons will be set targets for recruiting apprentices as part of the government’s drive to create 3 million apprenticeships, skills minister Nick Boles has announced.
The term "apprenticeship" will be also be given legal protection under the new Enterprise Bill, which will "give government the power to take action when the term is misused to promote low-quality courses".
The move will "strengthen their reputation, help working people and ensure apprenticeships are recognised as a career path equal to higher education", according to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
The commitment to create 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 will be enshrined in law, the department added.
"If university graduates have their moment in the sun, so should people who undertake apprenticeships," Mr Boles said. "Businesses know their value so it’s high time they were recognised both by the public and in law as being equal to degrees.
"We want far more employers to get involved in apprenticeships. This means making sure that we practise what we preach in government, so we’re going require all public sector bodies – schools, hospitals, prisons and police forces – to employ apprentices."
The move to compel public sector employers to hire apprentices follows the launch of the One by 2020 campaign, which calls for every primary and secondary in the country to have hired an apprentice by the end of the decade. More than 300 schools in England signed up in the first month of the campaign.
But training providers have raised concerns that funding delays could place these ambitious growth targets under threat.
Apprenticeships have also been made a key part of former shadow education secretary Andy Burnham’s bid for the leadership of the Labour Party. He has called for a university student loans-style system to help young people move around the country to take up technical apprenticeships.
At a speech in Crewe today, he called for a "revolution" in technical education, and said he had asked MP Pat Glass to lead an expert panel looking at improving the application process and financing of technical education.
The former cabinet minister said: "For too long, education policy in this country has been stuck inside the Westminster bubble, where the vast majority of people went to private schools and university. The result has been a debate about education obsessed about academic qualifications not giving enough attention to quality technical education.
"This has left technical education in Britain as a low-prestige, second-class option. If we continue with this flawed approach, we will not build the highly skilled workforce that Britain needs to build a modern economy and compete in the world.
"I want young people to be able to find out and apply for apprenticeships in exactly the same way as people apply for university. So my ambition is for a national Ucas-style system for apprenticeships, raising sights, rewarding those who work hardest, giving all children hope and a goal in life.
"We need a revolution in technical education, giving it all the support and prestige that comes with the university route. And that means access to financial support, too."