Mr Leighton made the comments after a study conducted by the Co-op found that most young people don’t feel that large companies understand them.
Just one in 10 of the respondents aged 18-25 said that major businesses are “genuinely interested” in their needs, and more than half (55 per cent) believed there were too few employment opportunities.
The research forms part of a newly launched report “Ways into Work for Young People”, which aims to explore the hopes and ambitions of 16 to 25-year-olds, and their experiences of education, training and employment.
The Co-op is campaigning to bring the voices of young people into the skills, apprenticeship and education debate.
Mr Leighton, who is a former chief executive of Leeds-based Asda, said: “It is clear that more bridges need to be built between young people and business. Lack of trust and perceived lack of leadership from business to inspire the next generation has the potential to weaken the labour market and growth in the long term.
“More importantly it cannot be right, that even in the current employment growth climate, 13.6 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds have no work, compared with an unemployment rate of 5.4 per cent for the rest of the population. Too little attention is paid to the struggles of young people entering the world of work. The only way to tackle the vicious circle of ‘no experience equals no job’ is for businesses to lead by example and train young people. Our objective is to provide the right environment to give our young people the opportunity to develop meaningful careers.”