Tory minister Nick Hurd has been accused of "blaming young people for failing to get a job" after warning that many had been found to lack the "grit" and "self-control" for the workplace.
What we see in survey after survey is employers saying qualifications are important, but that just as important to us are so-called soft skills, character skills, the ability to get on with different people, to articulate yourself clearly, confidence, grit, self-control, these kind of qualifications and they are saying we are not seeing enough of them in kids coming out of schools," the minister said, as reported by the Daily Mail.
"Something's gone wrong, this is a critical time in their lives to be stretching and challenging them and make them feel engaged."
Hurd's comments come after youth unemployment rose by 15,000 to 973,000 in the three months to June. Meanwhile, the number of 16 to 24 year olds classed as 'not in education, employment, or training' (Neet)' rose by 21,000 to 1.09 million in the first quarter of this year.
Critics condemned Hurd's "out of touch" remarks, with some highlighting Hurd's background as an Old Etonian and former member of the infamous Oxford University Bullingdon Club.
Teresa Pearce, member of the Commons work and pensions committee, told the Huffington Post UK: "I am disappointed to read Nick Hurd's comments. Although I can agree with the point I think he is trying to make in respect of schools being about more than just exam results, they should be about preparedness for the adult world of work as well.
"However, it is clumsily put by him and more than a little insensitive for an old Etonian whose CV reads more like an entry in Who's Who than a list of real life work experience.
"I had hoped that, as Minister for the Big Society, Mr Hurd would visit my constituency to see what contribution Thamesmead is making but despite a promise in 2010 to come along when next in South East London, he has not yet arrived. Maybe he lacks the grit and self confidence to find his way."
PCS Union General Secretary Mark Serwotka told the Huffington Post UK: "There are echoes of Norman Tebbit here with the old dishonest message that the government has no responsibility to tackle unemployment as it is all due to personal failings."
"I wonder how much 'grit' it takes for an ex-Etonian to follow his father into Parliament?"
Liam Byrne, shadow work and pensions spokesman, invited the minister, whose constituency is the affluent London area of Ruislip, to visit his constituency in Birmingham.
"He will see an awful lot of young people very angry with him and hungry for new answers from this government," Byrne said.
A spokesperson for the University and College Union said: "The out of touch elite blaming young people for failing to get a job is rather incredible when one looks at the levels of unemployment, especially amongst young people. Blaming the victims of the government's failed economic policies cannot deflect attention from where the real problem lies."
Toni Pearce, President of the National Union of Students said: "It's little wonder young people are struggling in the shadow of the worst economic crisis we have faced. Rather than decry the perceived lack of these characteristics, I say it's actually our responsibility to strengthen their resolve, we need to inspire confidence."
The minister took to Twitter to defend his remarks after the Daily Mail's report.
"It is employers raising concerns about how work ready many young people are. It is employers who are telling us that the so called soft skills matter more and more in the modern workplace," Hurd wrote.
"We know from research that extra curricular activities like #nationalcitizenservice can help develop those valuable skills and confidence, which is why we are growing #ncs so fast and supporting the independent campaign for #youthsocialaction.
"These programmes complement the huge amount of work to raise standards in schools and transform apprenticeship and training opportunities.
"The [Daily Mail] headline suggests I am criticising teenagers. I would never do that. They are growing up in an ever more complex and challenging world.This is a debate about how we can help them succeed in an ever more competitive world and realise their potential."