The extent of the youth unemployment crisis is being severely underestimated, a think-tank has warned.
Demos warned that the ranks of unemployed youth could swell over the next five years to 1.2 million (a 23% increase) as 230,000 16-18-year-olds leave education with NVQs at level 1 and 2.
These qualifications, which are equivalent to GCSEs, are "inadequate" and offer young people little or no protection from unemployment, according to a report due to be published by the think-tank next month.
In some cases, taking such vocational qualifications can actually harm young people's earning potential, the report will claim.
The warning comes on the day new official figures are due to be published on the numbers of young people that are considered to be "Neets" - not in education, employment or training.
The last figures to be published showed that 1,026,000 16-24-year-olds were "Neet" in the third quarter of 2010, while unemployment figures published last week showed that 965,000 16-24-year-olds are unemployed - the highest number since record began in 1992.
Demos is warning that levels of 10% to 15% were the norm for youth unemployment in the 1990s, but the recession, and failures in the education system risk making 20% the new "normal" level.
Its forthcoming report, which looks at the career path of young people who do not go to university, will call for employers' National Insurance contributions for workers under 25 to be waived or reduced to encourage more young people into the workplace.
Report author Jonathan Birdwell said: "Young people who spend long periods unemployed at the beginning of their careers work less and earn less throughout their working lives."
He added: "There is a drought of entry-level jobs meaning the door to work is closed to many young people. Those who don't go to university would normally acquire skills in their first jobs, but the disappearance of these positions means young people are getting hit twice - they get neither a salary nor skills."