Companies including McDonald's will be allowed to grant employees qualifications, the government announced today.
The initiative, already dubbed "McA-levels", is part of the government's plan to involve the private sector in helping people improve their skills and employment prospects.
The company-set qualifications are part of Gordon Brown's efforts to improve the UK's unskilled workforce, with the government warning the number of unskilled jobs is set to dramatically decline.
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) has authorised McDonalds, Network Rail and Flybe to award the first qualifications, which at the highest level will be equivalent to a PhD.
McDonalds will train staff in customer services, marketing, hygiene and human resources, awarding them with qualifications equivalent to GCSEs or A-levels.
Employees at Network Rail will be able to access training in track engineering equivalent to a PhD.
Earlier this month Network Rail blamed over-running engineering works which caused widespread travel disruption over the new year on a lack of specialist staff.
The announcement comes less than a week after admissions tutors at the UK's top universities said they were sceptical of the skills developed by the government's new diplomas.
Universities secretary John Denham said it was right to recognise and accredit employers that are working to train and develop their staff.
He said: "This is an important step towards ending the old divisions between company training schemes and national qualifications, something that will benefit employees, employers and the country as a whole."
The initiative has been welcomed by business leaders.
John Cridland, the CBI's deputy director-general, said: "Today marks a significant milestone on the road to reforming qualifications so that they better reflect the skills employers and employees need."
However, academic representatives have questioned how vigorous or transferable the qualifications will be.
Mr Brown insisted all qualifications would be subject to a "tough course" and would be recognised by other employers in many cases.
He told GMTV: "I think that is the important thing, companies prepared to train people up which they weren't doing before, in the way that we want them to do, in a far greater number, so that people have the qualifications for the future."
Shadow skills minister David Willetts commented: "We want to see better vocational qualifications but they should have value in their own right rather than falling victim to the government's obsession with linking them to A-levels.
"For the new qualifications to work, they should be rigorous and transferable. It's not for Gordon Brown to specify how much they're worth. That should depend on what employers and academic institutions think of them."
The move is part of a wider push to involve the private sector in welfare reform.