Work experience is crucial to ending skills gaps in the workplace, according to a poll of leading figures from business and education.

In the survey, which was carried out by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), the majority of respondents said work placement schemes should be offered to all schoolchildren under the age of 16.

The poll of 3,500 leaders from businesses, schools, colleges and universities found that a third of firms do not offer work placements, though many said they would if they had more information.

According to the results, there are also a wide range of work experience schemes on offer, including two-week placements and visits for groups of youngsters.

And 79% of the business leaders surveyed feel that work experience is essential for giving young people the skills they need to forge successful and rewarding careers.

John Longworth, director general of the BCC, said that work experience can play a vital role in driving down youth unemployment levels.

“Business and school leaders are clear - we won't bridge the gap between the world of education and the world of work unless young people spend time in workplaces while still at school,” he said.

“Work experience is crucial to bringing down our stubbornly high youth unemployment rate. It will help close the yawning skills gaps reported by frustrated businesses across the UK, who face huge difficulty filling vacancies at every level.”

Gillian Econopouly, Head of Policy at CITB, said: “Young people can only make informed decisions about their future careers if they have a real grasp of what is on offer. In construction, we have worked with industry to launch the Go Construct web portal to showcase the wide range of careers available.

“But young people also want try it out for themselves. Work experience is critical and CITB’s Experience Construction programme is one way they can see first-hand what an exciting career construction can be.

“In the longer term we want all students aged 14-16 to have the chance to take a vocational subject at school, which will help give them the broadest options for their future career.”

Compulsory work experience was scrapped by the coalition government in 2012.

But participants in the BCC poll said that ministers should recognise the importance of work experience in giving young people a taste of working life.

The findings show that just 12% of large firms with more than 250 employees offer no work placements at all, while 59% of small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have no such schemes in place.

Calls have now been made for both big businesses and SMEs to offer work placement programmes.

Mr Longworth said that it is vital that “every school pupil has the chance to feel the energy, dynamism, buzz and challenge of the workplace for themselves”.