Apprenticeships of less than six months provide "no real benefit" to trainees or their employers, a parliamentary report has warned.
The Commons Public Accounts Committee praised the Business Department's drive to boost the number of apprenticeships, which quadrupled from 79,000 in 2006/07 to 325,500 in 2010/11, with the proportion completed successfully rising from 34% to 78% over six years.
But the cross-party committee voiced concern over the amount and quality of training, and welcomed Skills Minister John Hayes' announcement in April that in future the vast majority of apprenticeships will last more than 12 months, with a six-month minimum for over-19s who already have qualifications.
Thursday's report said that the £451 million apprenticeship programme, offering work-related training for full-time employees in England, was a proven success, delivering £18 in economic benefits for every £1 spent.
But it said England still lagged behind other countries in the size of its programme and the proportion of apprentices taking advanced-level courses. It warned the programme will have to be better promoted after 2013/14, when over-24s will be required to contribute to the cost of advanced apprenticeships.
The MPs added that the National Apprenticeship Service was setting rates for courses on the basis of "outdated assumptions" and did not know what profits training providers were making or whether it was paying them too much.
Committee chairwoman Margaret Hodge said: "The apprenticeship programme has been a success. The department has done very well in raising the number of adult apprenticeships, which more than quadrupled in the four years to 2010/11.
"The proportion of adult apprentices who successfully completed their apprenticeship also rose, to more than three-quarters in 2010/11 compared with just a third six years before.
"But the department could do more to maximise the programme's impacts. My committee is concerned about the number of short training programmes classified as apprenticeships. The National Apprenticeship Service expects them to last between one and four years, but around a fifth of apprenticeships lasted for only six months or even less.
"We also have concerns about the amount and quality of training some apprentices receive. Many do not receive the off-the-job training they are entitled to and this is something the department must address."