Asda has called on the grocery industry to recruit more young people to help stem what chief operating officer Andy Clarke called a "downward spiral of illiteracy and innumeracy" among school-leavers.

Calling on retailers and manufacturers to resurrect apprenticeships, Clarke insisted he was not making a political point or asking the audience to hug a hoodie, but argued: "No-one can deny that Britain has spawned a generation of young people who struggle to read, write or do simple maths; a generation who respect no-one, not even themselves; a generation without hope, without ambition, without a future."

He said unless industry tried to tackle the problem by offering more jobs to the young, "today's lost generation" would be "tomorrow's lost consumers."

Clarke said Asda would tell store managers to focus on looking for young people "with the right attitude" regardless of qualifications, as well as older people with existing skills and qualifications. "There is no glass ceiling in an Asda store," he said. "Anyone can start at the bottom and work their way up. I started stacking shelves 30 years ago."

Asda declined to put a number on how many under 25s it aimed to recruit, but said out of the 3,000 long-term unemployed it had previously committed to employing next year, young people would be "adequately represented".

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