Grocers Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda have vowed to create more jobs, invest in more training and called on the Government to improve education.

Speaking at grocery body IGD’s Skills Summit, Tesco executive director for corporate and legal affairs, Lucy Neville-Rolfe, said Tesco has seen “basic problems with literacy and numeracy” among school leavers, many of whom also have an “attitude problem”.

She added that the sector needs to act because in education “the evidence seems to suggest that we are not standing still, but slipping back” and urged that lessons to be learnt from Tesco include keeping things simple. “I would guess that the paperwork mountain with which teachers have to struggle is even worse than the red tape we face in business,” she said.

Both Asda and Sainsbury’s spoke about the need for more jobs and training. Asda revealed a “young retailer programme” to tackle youth unemployment and Sainsbury’s said it was creating the UK’s first supermarket bakery college.

This year Asda will create 15,000 work experience placements for 14- to 16-year-olds, 15,000 apprenticeships for Asda staff, and 28,000 job opportunities for young people, with every new starter receiving City & Guilds accredited training.

Asda chief operating officer Andy Clarke said: “A million people under the age of 25 are unemployed, and it is probably going to get worse before it gets better. That is why I’m determined we do everything we can now to help young people get a foot in the door. This is about giving them a hand up, not a handout.”

Sainsbury’s bakery college has been created in partnership with flour supplier Whitworth, based in Wellingborough, Northhamptonshire. It aims to speed staff through NVQ training in half the time it presently takes - from 12 to six months.

Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King also highlighted the lack of recognition the grocery industry receives as a source of economic growth and provider of skills and employment. He said: “The food industry could be the cornerstone of job creation and economic growth over the coming decade.

“Collectively, the total food chain already employs 3.6 million people - that’s one job in every seven in the UK. Companies like Sainsbury’s will continue to invest in the skills of tomorrow, but we also need help from the education system.”