Apprenticeships are to be available to 14 year olds in England while they are still at school.
Students will be able to spend up to two days a week in a workplace
Such part-time workplace training is part of an attempt by the government to revitalise the apprentice system.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, said a shortage of skilled workers had been the "Achilles heel" of the economy.
Improving training was of "central importance to the whole future of the British economy", said Mr Brown.
"There are too many adults without basic skills. There are 600,000 vacancies to be filled," he said.
With industries facing global competition, Mr Brown said it was vital that the country develop a highly-skilled workforce.
And he said that there was a demand from young people. "Apprenticeships, which were dying a few years ago, have now already risen to 255,500 in England."
Gordon Brown and Digby Jones were selling the message on skills
The Confederation of British Industry chief, Digby Jones, echoed this message, saying "there won't be a job for people without skills".
The government, as well as putting in £800m to back the scheme, put on a show of ministerial muscle at the glitzy launch event, held at Selfridges store in London's West End.
Mr Brown was accompanied by the Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, and Education Minister Ivan Lewis.
Mr Clarke said there had been too much of an "alphabet soup of qualifications", but the re-launched scheme would help to develop the skills needed across the economy.
And Mr Lewis asked why Britain has been so "uniquely snobbish" in its negative attitude towards vocational education.
The re-vamping of apprenticeships is the latest attempt to create a credible system of work-related training that will appeal to both young people and employers.
Such schemes have been dogged by claims that they are too confusing and that employers are not always convinced by the quality.
There has also been an image problem, in that vocational courses have been associated with those youngsters not bright or ambitious enough for academic courses.
Under the new proposals, the label "modern apprenticeship" will be withdrawn - and in its place there will be a range of apprenticeships designed to be more flexible and fit in with a wider range of students.
In an attempt to break the idea that youngsters have to choose between academic qualifications and vocational training, pupils from the age of 14 will be able to spend a couple of days a week for workplace training - which will be known as "young apprenticeships".
There will also be "pre-apprenticeships", "apprenticeships" and "advanced apprenticeships" - and training will also be opened up those over the age of 25.
The most innovative aspect of the proposals - that 14 to 16 year olds will be able to gain work experience alongside their academic studies - will initially be available only to a thousand young people from September.
If this pilot proves successful, it is expected the scheme could be rolled out more widely next year.
The Conservative spokesperson for health and education, Tim Yeo, dismissed the proposals as "yet another re-launch from a government that is letting the British people down on education".
Liberal Democrat spokesman Phil Willis said much greater emphasis had to be put on completion of training schemes - with two out of three trainees failing to finish their apprenticeships.