A skills revolution is needed if the UK is to face up to the mounting challenge of globalisation, Sir Digby Jones will tell a conference of business and education leaders today.
The director general of the CBI will say the education system needs to step up a gear because at present too many youngsters are being let down.
He will deliver his warning at the organisation's West Midlands' Skills for a Global Economy seminar at South Birmingham College in Digbeth.
He will say: "Whilst more money is undoubtedly being invested, the education system needs to step up a gear at all stages to ensure the UK is equipped to face the challenge of globalisation.
"But at present, the system is failing our young people and employers by allowing almost half of 16-year-olds to leave school without the basic reading and writing skills they need to succeed in the workplace.
"At the same time, fewer of those who continue into Alevels are taking subjects like sciences and foreign languages which are needed to give UK business a competitive edge in the world economy.
"And it is disturbing that less than half of employers currently view Further Education Colleges as responsive to their needs." Sir Digby will also raised concerns about the widening skills gap and the need for more apprenticeships in industry.
Even the people who managed to get on the schemes too often failed to complete them, he added.
He is expected to say: "With over 255,000 young people currently in apprenticeships, which are on offer from over 130,000 employers in more than 80 different industries, there are grounds for real optimism about vocational education for school leavers.
"But we need to provide better careers advice to young people if we are to address the skill shortfall afflicting business, which must include raising awareness of the apprenticeship route.
"Companies would also appreciate more flexibility in the design, content and delivery of apprenticeships, and more effort is needed to increase completion rates, at under one third, the current figures are woeful."
Business was ready to play its part, but could not do it alone, he adds.
He will say: "We can tackle all of these issues but we need to do it together, and we need to do it now.
"The country's future success depends on a genuine skills revolution, nothing less will give us the competitive edge we need."