School leavers do not know enough about the working world or the career opportunities open to them, and are being let down by bad advice, employers have complained.
Sir Digby Jones, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, has called on the British government to do more to overhaul the careers' advice system.
A survey by the CBI and recruiter Pertemps has found that more than half of employers are dissatisfied with school leavers' knowledge about their job and career.
Poor career advice – or even a complete lack of it – leads to more than two thirds of apprentices dropping out of training programmes, it added.
"Informed careers advice is vital if young people are to realise their full potential and promise," Sir Digby told a conference in Bristol.
"Every young person must be able to talk to experienced and knowledgeable advisors who understand how business works, the career options open to them, what employers need and where their talents and skills would best be applied," he added.
The government has proposing devolving responsibility and funding for careers advice partnerships to local schools and colleges.
But, worried Sir Digby, this approach could actually make the problem worse, not better.
He was also concerned that outdated gender stereotypes are still dictating career choices.
"Ninety-seven per cent of those taking apprenticeships in childcare are women, but only one per cent of construction apprentices are female," he explained.
"Business and young people need careers' advisers to help challenge rather than reinforce these kind of gender stereotypes. We just can't afford a careers' advice system that is stuck in a 1970s' timewarp," he added.
"Government, careers services, local authorities, businesses and schools must all pull in the same direction, and rise to the challenge of delivering a better quality experience for both students and employers," he continued.
Three-quarters of employers now offered work experience but the best companies ensured their efforts paid off.
"By encouraging young people to do get a real flavour of a company and the workplace rather than simply making the tea they can uncover true talent and potential employees who will help the business prosper for years to come," said Sir Digby.
"More companies should go the extra mile to reap the rewards of unlocking the promise and potential of a young person," he added.