By Hannah Goff
Education reporter, BBC News
McDonald's has won approval to offer courses which could form part of a qualification at the standard of A-levels or advanced Diplomas.
McDonald's has been given awarding body status
The fast-food giant, airline Flybe and Network Rail are the first firms to be approved to offer the Level 3 courses.
It means students could combine units from in-house courses with others to obtain the new Diplomas, which combine practical and theoretical learning.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown said this did not mean standards would fall.
He told GMTV: "It is going to be a tough course, but once you have got a qualification in management you can probably go anywhere.
"I think that is the important thing, companies prepared to train people up which they weren't doing before, in the way that we want them to do, in a far greater number, so that people have the qualifications for the future."
Universities secretary John Denham said it was an important step towards ending the old divisions between company training schemes and national qualifications.
The move follows concerns raised by business leaders that schools, colleges and even universities are failing to equip youngsters for the world of work.
But critics complain that the Diplomas they see as the answer to the issue are not sufficiently academically rigorous.
Last week, four out of 10 university admissions tutors in a group of leading universities said they would not accept students who had taken the new Diplomas which are being introduced next autumn.
There are also plans to increase the proportion of youngsters offered an apprenticeship training course. The prime minister wants the in-work training scheme to be available to one in five young people.
Exams watchdog, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, said all three firms had been given awarding body status to Level 3 - which is equivalent to A-levels or the advanced Diploma.
And Flybe has won accreditation to offer qualifications that could theoretically form part of a degree - Level 4.
To achieve this status all three firms had to meet a set of standards set out by the QCA in its Qualifications Credit Framework (QCF).
Cabin crew courses
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Can you see any of the better universities accepting someone because of their McGCSE results?
Chris Q, Bradford
This QCF is a new system by which learners can bank up credits for workplace learning and take them with them to future courses.
A QCA spokesman said: "The Qualifications Credit Framework is a new framework that allows nationally recognised courses to be broken down into units.
"It is componentised so if a learner drops out of a course or can't manage to complete they can take those units with them."
He added: "McDonald's have achieved the standards for awarding accredited qualifications at Level 3.
"This will enable them to assess, track and recognise learning that otherwise would be lost."
QCA head Ken Boston said: "By becoming awarding bodies, Flybe, McDonald's and Network Rail, are enabling the skills of their employees to be recognised and recorded.
"They are the first three companies to gain awarding body status and we look forward to considering further applications from employers to have their valuable work related learning programmes validated."
But general secretary of the University and College Union Sally Hunt said although it supported the need for transferrable qualifications, it was concerned about qualifications that are very "narrow and specific to one organisation, like McDonald's".
"Just last week, a report revealed that some universities have concerns over diplomas. We are unsure whether those institutions would be clamouring to accept people with McQualifications."
From this month, McDonald's will be piloting their basic shifts manager course.
McDonald's chief people officer David Fairhurst said the accreditation was a natural extension of the qualifications the firm already offered.
He said: "Our employees tell us they want the chance to do more formal learning and we're responding to that."
He shrugged off suggestions that McDonald's accreditation meant exams were being "dumbed down" saying: "We have had to achieve the same rigorous criteria as traditional awarding bodies."
Meanwhile, from this summer Flybe will offer courses covering the work of cabin crews, engineers, call centre staff, some of which will reach Level 4 - degree level.
Network Rail will offer courses up to A-level or Diploma standard mainly to their track engineers at first.