Sir Digby Jones said his new role as training envoy was his opportunity to help business as it entered the "last chance saloon" on skills.
The former CBI director general said he was looking forward to the challenge of cajoling businesses and schools to raise their game over the next three years.
But he stressed the unpaid role would be non-political, because he wanted to be able to criticise the Government where necessary.
The Chancellor said that Sir Digby will encourage leading employers to improve training, especially for staff with low skills.
Gordon Brown said the Government will now consider the recommendation’s in Tuesday's Leitch report on skills, which urged a radical improvement in the level of young people’s and adult skills if the UK was to compete with other countries in the coming years.
Mr Brown said he will consider how to achieve the Leitch ambitions alongside the level of resources to be allocated, as part of next year’s comprehensive spending review.
"Raising UK productivity is critical to delivering continued economic growth and sustained increases in standards of living," said the Treasury.
Birmingham-born Sir Digby said: "The Leitch Report said there are about seven million adults in Britain who cannot read, write or count.
"And we have got 30 per cent of businesses in Britain who don't train anyone. But the jobs for people who haven't got basic skills are going by the minute to China and India. We are really in the last chance saloon.
"As this country goes up the value added chain, into jobs for people with skills, we have to got to train the people."
Sir Digby said he would be working with four main groups over the next three years.
They would include the education system so children who could not read or write could even be held back a year. Let's get some common sense. If someone can't do it at the age of 12, they should have another go when they are 13, 14 or 15.
"Parents also have an obligation to ensure their children are equipped for the world of work by the age of 16. They should be able to read, write and count, but they should also have the soft skills like understanding about turning up for work, communication skills.
"This is an issue which transcends party politics and I will be politically independent. I will not answer to any political master."