Teenagers should be told to drop the idea that a traditional three-year university degree course is the only route to a top job, one of the UK's biggest business organisations has warned.
Instead, they should be encouraged to embark upon "earn-while-you-learn" courses equipping them with the high level skills they need for employment.
A report by the Confederation of British Industry, published today, debunks the idea – fashionable in government circles for decades – that growing numbers of school leavers should be encouraged to take up traditional university courses.
"We need to tackle the idea that the A-levels and three-year degree model is the only route to a good career," said Katja Hall, CBI policy director. "The skills needs of tomorrow's economy will be different to the needs of today's."
The report, Tomorrow's Growth, argues for a push to shorter and part-time degree courses or "sandwich" courses which include a year in industry. Traditional degree courses, it adds, will not meet the needs of key industries likely to expand such as manufacturing, construction, IT and engineering.
It urges ministers to take action to combat the "catastrophic" slump in numbers taking part-time degree courses to allow older workers to retrain and learn the skills of new growth industries.
Evidence suggest today's school leavers – faced with the prospect of up to £27,000 debt from their three-year degree courses – were already becoming "savvier" in shopping around for alternative after school routes to give them the skills needed for employment.
"Universities must be much more innovative to take advantage of the change in students' approach," it said. "We need businesses to roll up their sleeves and expand high quality alternative routes where degrees are not the best option for young people."
It calls for more apprenticeships and more "inspiration" in providing careers advice.
An Ucas-style system listing the availability of vocational courses would also help persuade young people to opt for alternative options to the degree.