Young people are leaving school without the basic arithmetic, reading and writing skills they need to succeed at work, British employers have warned.
The Confederation of British Industry has said, ahead of this year's GCSE results, that the education system is letting down too many school-leavers.
School-leavers needed to be literate and numerate, motivated and alive to the needs of the modern workplace, it added.
But the reality was that barely half of GCSE students achieved a grade C or above in maths and just six out of ten reached the same standard in English – levels that demonstrate competence in the "3Rs", said the CBI.
As a result almost half of employers – 42 per cent – were unhappy with the basic skill levels of school-leavers and 50 per cent believed teenagers did not have sufficient communication, team-working and problem-solving abilities, according to CBI/Pertemps Employment Trends Survey 2005.
The figures were evidence the system was failing teenagers and the taxpayer, as well as employers, who end up having to pay for remedial lessons for new recruits on top of the taxes they have already paid to fund the education system, it stressed.
CBI director-general Sir Digby Jones said: "A working knowledge of English and maths provides a vital foundation for the modern world of work – but the education system is failing many young people by leaving them ill-equipped.
"The UK is the fourth richest economy on Earth. Surely it cannot be beyond us to ensure all our young people have the basic skills they need to get on at work?" he questioned.
"Yet sadly too many, particularly boys, are being left behind. How can school-leavers hope to succeed in the modern world if they cannot read or write?"
While employers welcomed the Government's pledge of a "relentless drive" to raise standards and eradicate illiteracy and innumeracy there had been no clear action to back up the promises made in its education white paper back in February, he added.
"We need to see action as well as words – at the moment the UK economy is losing up to £10 billion a year because of poor basic skills, whilst our school-leavers are held back from fulfilling their potential," he said.
"Too many emerge from our education system with no feeling of self-worth – leading to social dislocation, crime and wasted futures," he added.
Eight out of ten jobs required a basic competency in the "3Rs" but worryingly 15 million adults did not have the numeracy skills expected of 14-year-olds and 5.6 million did not have the literacy abilities, calculated the CBI.
Its survey figures from 2004 showed that four out of five businesses believed the number one priority for the education system should be to improve basic literacy and numeracy levels.
Sir Digby said: "Too often bosses have to pick up the pieces and the bill, with many resorting to basic training to compensate for the shortcomings of an education system they have already contributed to through business taxes.
"Business does not expect young people to be ready to do specific jobs when they are recruited but it does expect them to have the basic skills to get started – competence in arithmetic, reading and writing, a willingness to learn and a positive attitude."