Teachers warned today that young people will be used as cheap labour unless new apprenticeships promised by Prime Minister David Cameron come with proper wages.
Mr Cameron marked the start of National Apprenticeship Week today with a promise to make it the "new norm" for school leavers to work as an apprentice or go to university.
He said apprenticeships would help rebuild Britain's economy and called on bosses, teachers and ministers to make sure that they are seen as a "first-choice career move."
National Union of Teachers general secretary Christine Blower said that apprenticeships should have "proper contacts and proper wage levels" to make them "meaningful."
She said that placements without pay or real training "are a waste of young people's time."
And she said the whole scheme was undermined by Education Secretary Michael Gove's "continuing obsession with the classics and formal education."
Roughly 260,000 people will finish apprenticeships this year and the Centre for Economics and Business Research predicted the figure could be 480,000 in 2022.
But fewer than one in five parents think apprenticeships are as worthwhile as a university education, according to the Charted Institute of Personnel and Development.
And National Union of Students vice-president Toni Pearce said that "many apprenticeships are increasingly short and lacking in any real training" because of the government's "focus on numbers at the expense of quality."
Ms Pearce said that the number of under-19s taking apprenticeships had dropped by 9,000 this year and new fees for thousands of older apprentices meant the government was "effectively charging people to work.
"It is staggering that the Prime Minister claims that he is strengthening and raising standards of apprenticeships when he is doing anything but."