Jeremy Corbyn has called for a major investment in skills to tackle a “lost decade” in which there had been an “explosion” of low-paid, insecure jobs.
But Education Secretary Justine Greening, also addressing the British Chambers of Commerce, says she wants firms to back a “skills revolution” and her plans for new technical qualifications.
With warnings of a post-Brexit skills gap, the Labour and Conservative representatives gave business leaders their plans to improve skills.
Labour leader Mr Corbyn told a British Chambers of Commerce conference in London that investing in education was the path away from “stagnant living standards”, even if it meant raising taxes.
But Ms Greening called on business leaders to support the so-called “T-levels”, which are intended to raise the quality and status of vocational qualifications.
The education secretary said that in England from next April, £50m will be available to fund work placements and £15m to help improve further education.
The investment is part of the £500m for technical education announced by Chancellor Philip Hammond in the Budget in March.
Ms Greening told business leaders that she wanted an “army of skilled young people”.
But Mr Corbyn said the economy needed to be revived by a much bigger investment in skills – and that would mean businesses paying higher corporation tax.
The Labour leader said that improving the UK’s poor record on productivity meant investing in education and training.
Otherwise he warned of an economy built on “low-paid insecure jobs”.
Mr Corbyn said that too often only “lip service” was paid to valuing vocational training.
He rejected the idea of lower taxes, saying that there were “no short cuts” for a strong education system, and the alternative was becoming a “low tax haven on the shores of Europe”.
Mr Corbyn repeated his commitment to scrapping university tuition fees – and said that high levels of debt could deter young people from staying in education.
He said that “not everyone can access the bank of mum and dad to go to university”.
Mr Corbyn called for better funding for schools – saying that it was “utterly unacceptable where schools were having to beg parents for donations to cover the basics”.
“We lose out as a society if we don’t have a highly qualified workforce,” he told the business and education conference.