The City & Guilds Group's Industry Skills Board (ISB) said "society has essentially misled young people" to assume that higher education is the best route to all careers.
Its report said the lack of a single coherent approach to recruitment for apprentices means that applicants aged 16 to 18 find it much harder to secure an apprenticeship than to enroll in a sixth form or at college or university.
At the same time, employers struggle to fill their vacancies.
It suggests that using a Ucas-style system could make apprenticeship recruitment better relate to the school calendar and incentivise employers to offer all apprenticeships as opportunities between July and October, enabling more young people to see and apply for them.
At present not all apprenticeships appear as vacancies, and those that do are advertised year-round, rather than during a set application period, as Ucas requires.
With the Government committed to introducing an apprenticeship levy on large firms and creating three million apprenticeship starts by 2020, the report said politicians, business, employer groups and the education sector must take action to ensure apprenticeships become as accessible and desirable as securing a place in higher education.
ISB chairman Andy Smyth said: "Many young people in full-time education decide an apprenticeship is the right route for them – but this means nothing if they cannot access opportunities in the right timeframe.
"Along with the other members of the ISB, I am passionate about building a great apprenticeship system to help boost UK productivity and individual success.
"If the obstacles we outline in this report, such as the recruitment process, are addressed I am confident apprenticeships can become a sustainable and universally respected route to career success, serving the needs of business and young people."
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