The survey of some of the country's biggest businesses found three in four bosses believe graduate skills are poor.
The poll, of firms including HSBC, Santander, KPMG and Procter & Gamble, found widespread concern of the quality of potential recruits.
Researchers found that thousands of young people arrive at interviews without the "vital employability skills" required by employers such as having a suitable grasp of English, being punctual and having a general "can do" attitude.
The study, commissioned by the Young Enterprise charity, found that the problems compounded the current recruitment crisis affecting young people from teenage school leavers through to university graduates.
Asked to identify which skills were lacking in their new recruits, one told researchers that there were "too many to list".
They added: "Commercial awareness, written and spoken English to a high enough level, technical skills, interpersonal skills, you name it".
Ian Smith, the charity's chairman, said that many British bosses were forced to hire foreign workers as a result.
"The situation is getting worse because the Department for Education is adopting an alarmingly narrow focus on academic skills and exams," he told the Daily Mail.
"This will make it less likely that students emerge from education with these employability skills."
According to international data, published last month, more teenagers in Britain are out of work and without a college place than in most other developed nations.
Figures show that school-leavers are more likely to be classed as “Neet” – not in education, employment or training – than in countries such as Estonia, Portugal, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia.
It emerged that the UK was ranked ninth out of 32 nations judged by the number of 15- to 19-year-olds with effectively nothing to do.
The data – from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – will fuel fears that a generation of young people have been failed despite billions of pounds invested in education under Labour.
Figures show almost one-in-10 school-leavers were without a job or college place in 2009 – the latest comparable data – above the international average. Only Spain, Italy and Ireland had higher rates among EU nations.
The survey echoes public comments by other senior business leaders.
David Frost, the outgoing director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said school leavers do not have the skills needed for the world of work, forcing companies to spend billions of pounds bringing them up to speed.
Mr Frost, whose organisation represents more than 100,000 British businesses, criticised Britain’s education system, saying it was a “failure” despite billions of pounds of government funding. He said firms were then saddled with funding remedial training for school leavers who lacked vital skills to do their jobs.
In 2009 Sir Terry Leahy, the chief executive of Tesco, attacked the government’s “woeful” education record, claiming that too many teenagers left school without enough basic education to cope on a shop floor.
Sir Terry said: “Sadly, despite all the money that has been spent, standards are still woefully low in too many schools. Employers like us ... are often left to pick up the pieces.”
A year later, Lucy Neville-Rolfe, Tesco’s executive director of corporate and legal affairs, said school leavers had basic problems with literacy and numeracy and have major “attitude problems”.
Sir Stuart Rose, the former Marks and Spencer chief executive, has also claimed schools were failing to equip pupils with the right skills to succeed in the world of work. He described the standard of school leavers as “woefully low”.
A Department for Education spokesman said on Monday: "We share the concerns of many businesses that too many of our young people leave school without the necessary skills – in particular in the basics of English and maths. That is why we are prioritising them."