THE level of youth unemployment in the UK should be a "national embarrassment", according to a business leader.
John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), highlighted the skills gap which he said was holding back productivity and growth.
He told a conference in London that the education and skills system in the UK was "divorced" from the needs of business.
"Businesses tell us they don't have the talent pipeline that they need to grow and, as a consequence, we end up with a level of youth unemployment which is almost three times the adult unemployment rate. This, frankly, should be a source of national embarrassment," he said.
Mr Longworth said skills shortages started early, with too many youngsters leaving school without basic skills to find a job.
The latest official figures showed that 848,000 people, or 11.7 per cent of all young people in the UK aged 16 to 24 were classified as NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training). The region with the highest proportion of 16 to 24 year olds who are NEET is the North-East, which has almost a quarter of the national total. 
Recent attempts by the Government to tackle these alarming figures include raising the age to which all young people in England must continue in education or training to 18, the Youth Contract schemes aimed at helping young people find jobs or training, and the flagship Work Programme to get young people off welfare. 
In addition, Mr Longworth believes the education sector needs more help to offer young people practical training options. He said: "There aren't enough incentives in schools to promote high quality vocational routes, such as good quality apprenticeships.
"Schools are judged on their academic results, which often crowd out the skills needed for life and work.
"There is a revolving door system for some young people, who move in and out of low quality courses
"There is not the national infrastructure to promote high quality links between business and education, where both sides can work in genuine strategic partnership."
The BCC said barriers have built up preventing stronger links between business and schools, including staff time and administrative burdens.
A survey of more than 3,500 businesses and educators found "significant" benefits of partnerships, especially for pupils.
Firms found it easier to identify future employees and increase awareness of different careers, while students had a better awareness of the skills firms need as well as being more motivated in lessons, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said.
But the research also found barriers such as a lack of staff time, administrative burdens and cost.
Some education officials also spoke of a lack of interest from business.
The latest jobless figures showed the North-East was the only English region to have endured an unemployment rise – and the situation is expected to worsen once redundancies from Teesside’s troubled steel and potash industries hit home.