The apprenticeship system is "struggling" to cope with demand as figures suggest there are around 11 applicants for every vacancy, according to a new report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).
The research also found two in five apprentices starting since 2010 were over 25.
In total, there were 1.8 million applicants for 166,000 advertised vacancies last year, while 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.
Young people need to stop "drifting" into academia "which may not be suitable for them" and see apprenticeships as "just as good as pursuing a university route," Business Secretary Vince Cable told Good Morning Britain.
Plans to help young people get more out of their apprenticeships are unveiled today, with new employer-designed standards to ensure they get the training they need.
A range of new "world class" apprenticeships in sectors including hospitality and the legal profession will be announced today.
The 40 apprenticeships are based on new standards and assessment approaches, designed by employers.
Companies involved include Google, Sky and Price Waterhouse Coopers.
The Government hopes these reforms will make participants more employable, and give high-level apprenticeships the same status as university degrees.
The party says applicants are now two-and-a-half times more likely to get into Cambridge than on to the BAE apprenticeship scheme, and that young people have a greater chance of achieving a first-class degree than securing a spot on the Jaguar Land Rover scheme.
At City of Westminster College, Mr Byrne will say a Labour government would give employers more control over the standards and assessment criteria for training, and task combined local authorities and enterprise partnerships with drawing up the commissioning strategy for adult skills in their area.
Shadow business minister Liam Byrne is to say that it is almost three times more difficult to win a Rolls-Royce apprenticeship than a place at Oxford.
In a speech outlining the need to create a better vocational track to degree level professional and technical skills, he will pledge a "new way forward" that is "pro-company and pro-worker".
Labour claims securing an apprenticeship is now twice as hard as getting a place at university.
According to figures obtained from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the number of apprenticeship starts by under-25s has fallen by more than 11,000 under the coalition Government.
Ministers have announced a multi-million pound fund to help create jobs and apprenticeships in seaside towns, including areas hit by flooding.
Fifty different projects will share a pot of £27.7m, which the Treasury said would help create 4,000 jobs and 10,000 apprenticeships and training places.
Among the new schemes is a £1.3m project to develop tourism in Southend and a £300,000 investment in a new technology centre in Hull.
Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to announce that in future, apprenticeships will last at least a year and will be based on standards designed by employers, to meet the specific needs of their industry.
Apprentices will be subjected to more thorough academic assessment - including maths and English tests - and graded at pass, merit or distinction level in a similar way to their contemporaries in full-time education. At least 20% of their training will take place away from their work stations.
Downing Street said it was intended that all new apprenticeships will meet the new standards by 2017/18.
Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to frame the "new era of apprentices" as part of the Government's efforts to consolidate the growth now returning to the UK economy in a speech later today.
During a visit to the Mini factory in Oxford, he is expected to say: "We know that the economy is turning a corner; GDP figures last week showed the third consecutive quarter of growth and we know we have record levels of employment.
"But we cannot for one moment be complacent. I'm determined we finish the job we started."
Mr Cameron will tell trainees at the plant that the reforms will make a "massive difference" to the lives of thousands of young people by ensuring UK companies provide "the best apprenticeships in the world".