Asda chief executive Andy Clarke has heralded “unprecedented collaboration” across the grocery industry to address youth unemployment after meeting Prime Minister David Cameron.

Clarke told Retail Week that the IGD-organised Skills for Work Week, which takes place next week, has sparked a change in attitudes about collaboration in grocery.

Clarke, along with Co-operative Group chief executive Peter Marks and Marks & Spencer boss Marc Bolland, as well as manufacturing and wholesale chiefs met Cameron, environment secretary Owen Paterson and business and education minister Matthew Hancock in Downing Street today to discuss youth unemployment.

During Skills for Work Week grocery companies will offer free training in 700 locations, and about 10,000 young people are expected to visit farms, factories and shops. Retailers will run work clubs in-store including CV clinics and interview tips.

The Asda boss said: “This is an unprecedented collaboration in the food industry. It’s a very positive step. If we train someone in our stores and take their skills into manufacturing we have to stop thinking of it as a competitive issue but as an opportunity for the whole industry.”

Marks said that Cameron was “very receptive” to the work being done by the industry to reduce youth unemployment and that the Government intends to help retailers in reducing unemployment figures.

He said: “The Prime Minister and his ministers were very interested in the initiative. They are clearly very concerned about youth unemployment and anything that can assist that is welcomed.

“I don’t think that people understand the value of the retail industry. Sometimes people say it’s a dead end job like flipping burgers but that’s where I started and I’m running one of the biggest businesses in the UK, as is Andy Clarke. People do not realise the different skills involved across the various occupations in the food industry.”

Key players in the grocery trade are working together to benchmark training standards and educational materials.