The apprenticeship system is “struggling” to cope with demand as figures suggest there were around 11 applicants for every vacancy, according to a new report.
Research by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) also found two in five (42%) apprentices starting since 2010 were over 25.
In total, there were 1.8 million applicants for 166,000 advertised vacancies last year, while two thirds (67%) of higher level apprenticeships were given to people already employed.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which commissioned the research, said it indicated the system was being used to train older workers and young people were missing out.
David Cameron has pledged to create three million new apprenticeships and official figures this week showed the numbers of people considered “NEET” - not in education, employment and training - are at a 10-year low.
Cllr Peter Box, economy spokesman for the LGA, said: “Local government is right behind government’s ambition to create three million apprenticeships and this research underlines the importance of enabling councils to engage local businesses to make that ambition a reality.
“A good apprenticeship can give young people the experience, skills and understanding that can often lead straight into a full-time job. At present, too many new apprenticeships are low skilled and taken by older people already in work with their employer. Too few new apprentices are school-leavers trying to get their first job, and too few are getting the construction skills to build the homes and roads our local communities need.
“With the greatest will, government alone cannot engage over two million employers from Whitehall.”