The survey of 1,000 UK employees and 500 employers, conducted between July and September, shows that 73% of businesses and 84% of workers believe there is a permanent underclass emerging, for whom a poor education and background leaves them largely unemployable.
The survey, conducted by human resources services provider Adecco Group, will further concern the government as unemployment among the under-25s tops 1m for the first time and fears grow that apprenticeship schemes are failing to help young people into work.
Business secretary Vince Cable announced a series of measures on Wednesday to encourage small businesses to take on apprentices aged under 25. These included a cash payment of up to £1,500 for each young apprentice hired and a relaxing of red tape for firms employing fewer than 50 people.
Cable claimed the government's apprenticeship programme was "a success story", and that record numbers of learners had starting apprenticeships this year. "But I have listened to employers, and will go further to ensure that investment is targeted where impact is greatest," he said.
A report earlier this week from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) showed that fewer than a quarter of the 126,000 apprenticeship schemes created last year went to people aged between 16 and 24.
The Adecco research showed 57% of employers do not have an apprenticeship programme; only 51% think they are cost-effective.
Tony Dolphin, a senior economist at the IPPR, said: "Employers have become increasingly reluctant to hire school leavers. They need more support to set up apprenticeship programmes, particularly when they are hiring apprentices for the first time."
Chris Moore, managing director of Adecco Group Solutions, said employers needed to act to "stop the rot" and identify new, untapped pools of talent. "Taking on young people from diverse backgrounds is not just good from a corporate responsibility perspective; it actuallybenefits the organisation in terms of innovation, culture and, ultimately, bottom line performance," he said.
Last week, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said it would hold a select committee inquiry into apprenticeships in the new year. A leaked government document recently revealed concerns over the lack of apprenticeships being taken up by the under 25s.
Earlier this year, the further education magazine FE Week reported that the supermarket chain Morrisons, which claims to be the UK's biggest provider of apprenticeships, started more than 18,000 level 2 retail apprenticeships for over-25s in 2010-11, nearly all of which were taken up by existing employees.
Moore said businesses needed to move away from the "outdated" notion that apprenticeships are only for blue collar jobs. "There is unquestionable evidence to prove the value apprentices bring to all types of business. Similarly, businesses need to start recognising the potential benefits of offering work experience to young people and providing them with an inspirational introduction to the world of work; surely there can be no better, easier way to engage and attract new talent."