Student nurses will be able to train for on-the-job apprenticeships, which could see up to 1,000 new nurses joining the NHS each year, the Health Secretary has announced.
Jeremy Hunt has unveiled plans to create the new role which will sit with fully qualified nurses and another position, nursing associates.
But Unison has urged the government to tackle the shortage of nurses head on rather than look for "cheap alternatives".
Researchers argue that allowing health workers other than fully registered nurses to care for patients and carry out nursing tasks increases the risk of death for patients.
Under the new plans, apprentice nurses could be on NHS wards from next September.
Trainees will join the apprenticeship at different stages, depending on their qualifications and experience.
Mr Hunt said the new scheme will offer a more flexible route into the nursing profession.
The scheme coincides with government plans to scrap bursaries for nurses in 2017.
Student nurses at university currently have their course fees paid.
They are also entitled to bursaries of £4,500 to £5,500 if they live in London - as well as a grant of £1,000 every year during their course.
But this funding will be scrapped and health staff will have to pay university fees along with other students.
The Department of Health confirmed that apprentices would receive a salary while training for their degree which could take up to the five years to complete.