Schools in Wales are still not producing pupils who are "job ready", despite a greater focus on skills in the curriculum, according to a critical new report.
The Wales Employment and Skills Board says schools and colleges must "substantially" raise the status of basic skills and make "employability" as important to pupils as gaining good GCSEs.
In its first annual report, the board, chaired by Sir Adrian Webb, former chancellor of the University of Glamorgan, urges the Assembly government to double its efforts to make young people fit for work - one of six major recommendations in the report.
It says that despite the skills-led Welsh baccalaureate qualification and other education initiatives, not enough is being done and change cannot "come quickly enough".
According to a recent report by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, 63 per cent of employers in Wales believe the education system does not give enough people the skills they need to start work, compared with 48 per cent of employers in Scotland, 49 per cent in England, and 50 per cent in Northern Ireland.
The report says: "We strongly believe that government can do more (for example through the national qualification structure) to ensure that the importance of basic skills teaching and of all learners acquiring good basic skills is recognised throughout the education system."
The report praises the Welsh bac, with its focus on academic and vocational study as well as personal development, as "potentially a major advantage" for Wales. Although the qualification is fast emerging as an alternative to A-levels and gaining recognition from universities across the UK, the report says not enough employers know about it.
It is also critical of FE funding cuts for next year, while sympathising with the difficult economic conditions the government faces.
Hinting at the recent furore over perceived budget cuts in post-16 funding, the reports says it cannot believe that, at a time when the government is telling employers not to cut back on training, it would reduce FE funding.
Dr Philip Dixon, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Cymru, agreed that there needed to be even more focus on skills. "I'm all in favour of broadening out from this narrow conception of what a good school is," he said, "but it needs a lot more work - how do you measure employability?"
The skills board report says it will work to understand better what employability means to employers and how the education system in Wales can respond.
A spokesman for the Assembly government said many of the preliminary recommendations made by Sir Adrian were already being implemented. Initiatives such as Flying Start for under-threes and the play-led foundation phase were giving children skills at a young age.
"Basic skills are a priority for us," he said, adding that the report's recommendation was a "timely message" as the Assembly government evaluates the success of Words Talk, Numbers Count, its second basic skills strategy, which ends next year. He said the government would continue its "extensive" campaign to promote the Welsh bac, especially to employers.