Hundreds of extra young people could become apprentices under an ambitious new scheme, the Employment Minister said today.
The economic situation has made it increasingly difficult for apprentices to find work after completing their training, Sir Reg Empey added.
The initiative, which will increase spending on apprenticeship training by £6.8 million, will begin in September 2009.
Sir Reg said: "I am introducing the Programme-Led Apprenticeships which will give 16 and 17-year-old school leavers the opportunity to gain a full apprenticeship qualification in a chosen skill area.
"They will access this through a combination of simulated learning and time spent with an employer on a work placement, one day per week."
The minister also called on ministerial colleagues to find work placements in the public sector and to use public procurement contracts to find placements within the public sector supply chains.
The Assembly's Employment Committee presented its report on apprenticeships in the chamber today.
Chairwoman Sue Ramsey said: "Apprenticeships are vital to the development of skills needed by our workforce to compete in the global economy.
"Unfortunately apprenticeships, along with providing lifelong learning to existing workers, are often the first cuts that employers make in an economic downturn.
"We particularly need to find ways to encourage our small and medium enterprises to take on apprentices as these businesses make up the bulk of our private sector."
During the debate members called for apprenticeships to be better focused on the needs of business. They agreed steps should be taken to boost the image of the option as an alternative to university.
Meanwhile, Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster today announced a £2.5 million boost for social enterprises.
The Social Entrepreneurship Programme (SEP) will proved improved support and offer more flexible assistance for those starting up their businesses, Ms Foster added.
She said there would be greater focus on growing social enterprises which can make a significant economic impact.
"Through this new SEP Invest NI will promote innovation and enterprise and build the transferable business skills of people who manage social enterprises," she added.
"It will also help create more sustainable, cohesive communities and regenerate local areas."