A call for a cultural revolution to boost the status of vocational education has been issued by David Bell, chief inspector of schools.
He urged the worlds of education and business to collaborate to put the pride back into apprenticeships and trades.
He also demanded action to ensure that vocational education is held in the same esteem as academic courses and meets the needs of employers.
In a speech to a conference marking Enterprise Week, Mr Bell gave two reasons why vocational education is currently held in low esteem.
He said: "For too long in this country, vocational courses have been regarded as second-class compared to academic courses, which are still seen as the main route to higher education and higher paid employment.
"Why do we undervalue vocational education so much? Is it because, unlike many of our international competitors, universities and employers have not been as closely involved with the development of vocational qualifications and thus fail to award them the same status as general qualifications?
"Or, is it due to the vast amount of vocational qualifications available that cause employers and students to be confused about their status and the lack of clear progression routes from one to another?"
Mr Bell joined Digby Jones, director-general of the CBI, the employers'
organisation, to address the "Tomlinson and Beyond" conference in Westminster last week.
Mr Jones said: "To deliver vocational provision that companies truly value the Government must make the qualifications relevant, flexible and well-taught.
"What business wants is an education system that produces well-skilled youngsters who are motivated, independent and have the right attitude to work.
"But CBI research shows that 47 per cent of employers are unhappy with young people's basic skills and 72 per cent are dissatisfied with their business awareness.
"This is unacceptable and demands urgent attention and dramatic improvement."
Mr Bell delivered his speech as the Office for Standards in Education issued a report - The responsiveness of colleges to the needs of employers.
Inspectors visited a range of colleges to survey how effectively they identify employers' needs, and to highlight best practice already taking place.
It found that half of the general further education colleges visited undertook a significant amount of work with, and for, employers.
However, sixth-form colleges, which are more focused on academic achievement, rarely worked directly with employers, the report stated.
New policy initiatives introduced by the Learning and Skills Council have drawn attention to this area by requiring all colleges to set targets for employer-related work.
But action is still needed to ensure consistency in the range and quality of work across the country, the report said.