Employer training organisations have called for more work-based apprenticeships to counterbalance the "cultural snobbery" that promotes higher education.
Garry Hawkes, chief executive of the National Council of the National Training Organisations, said that Britain valued academic education at the expense of vocational training. He said that as a result, successive governments have under-invested in schools and focused on higher education.
Speaking at the National Skills Festival in Birmingham, Mr Hawkes said: "What is needed is a clear pathway of vocational education in school, college and university - all of which must be of equal value and comparable to academic qualifications.
"If our children don't graduate from university - from any university - we feel we have failed as parents. As employers ... we must be vigilant. By that I mean the tendency to enforce the cultural, pervasively middle- class norm that the classroom is a better place to graduate from than the workplace."
Mr Hawkes praised the government for its vocational A-level and foundation-degree proposals. But he warned that the two-year, vocationally orientated foundation degrees must reflect real industrial and occupational needs, linked to national occupational standards.
He said the UK spends half the European average on publicly funded apprenticeships.