Under new rules to come through in the Enterprise Bill to prevent employers from abusing the term, the Government has announced plans to give apprenticeships legal protection.

The legislation would make unauthorised use of the term “apprenticeship” illegal, with schemes obliged to provide at least a year’s training and meet other requirements.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) said of this new legislation: “This will strengthen their reputation, help working people and ensure apprenticeships are recognised as a career path equal to higher education.”

BIS has also announced that it will now set targets for public bodies, such as schools, hospitals, prisons and police forces, to take on more apprentices.

The Government is keen to raise the profile and reputation of apprenticeships and put them on a par with university as a career route for school leavers.

Last month, a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research claimed that too many apprenticeships were offered to older people or those already employed at their company, rather than tackling youth unemployment. It claimed that a significant proportion of companies failed to comply with the apprenticeship minimum wage, and that there was “particular concern over the poor quality of some apprenticeships”.

Skills Minister Nick Boles said that the Government would gain power to take action if low-quality courses are promoted under the apprenticeships banner.

He said: “If university graduates have their moment in the sun, so should people who undertake apprenticeships. Businesses know their value so it’s high time they were recognised both by the public and in law as being equal to degrees.”