Asda is to launch a three-year campaign to hire more young people, as chief operating officer Andy Clarke said “something needs to be done to give young people a chance”.

Clarke said: “Britain has spawned a generation who struggle to read, write and do basic maths. And today’s lost generation is tomorrow’s lost customer.”

He said the level of unemployment among young people is “shocking” and that Asda has a social responsibility to make sure they are better represented in its workforce.

According to ONS, unemployment now stands at 2.5 million, with the rate for 16- to 17-year-olds at 33%, and 18% for 18- to 24-year-olds.

Speaking to Retail Week at grocery analysts’ IGD Convention this week, Clarke said Asda would actively recruit young people with “the right attitude” to complement those with more experience. Hesaid Asda has relied on recruiting friends and families of store staff, which “works well”, but more could be done.

He said figures showed boys aged between 10 and 16 account for 40% of all street crime, and 25% of all burglaries. “If we get just 5% of these youngsters turned away from a life of crime, then it will make a huge difference,” he said.

He added: “The asbo has been seen by many as a badge of pride, so we need to make them see that working can give them a better life.”

Asda will revive apprenticeships next year, although full details of the scheme are as yet unconfirmed. The grocer will also seek to keep some of the 10,000 temporary staff it hires in busy periods, who are studying at college or university, to “have a meaningful career in retail”.

Also speaking at the IGD, Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahyhit out at the Government’s track record in education, stating that standards in schools are “still woefully low”.

Leahy said Tesco, which is the largest private employer in the country, depends on high standards in schools as “today’s schoolchildren are tomorrow’s team”. He said: “They will be the ones we need to help build our businesses.”