Teenagers won widespread praise for their GCSE results today as union leaders raised concerns that the Government has betrayed young people by stripping away their future chances.
A lack of clear guidance is leaving many youngsters in a "maze of confusion", it was suggested.
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said: "The key question is, having worked so hard and achieved so much, what is on offer from the coalition Government for these young people?
"Unfortunately, in just over 12 months, this Government has stripped away many of the opportunities available.
"Apprenticeships have been slashed, financial support axed through the abolition of the education maintenance allowance (EMA), youth unemployment has soared and university places cut.
"The coalition has ripped up the social contract between the state and young people.
"Unless there is a change of policy direction, the betrayal of young people will continue and the country will be starved of the skills needed to support future prosperity."
Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: "What young people need is clear guidance over where they should go next, and that is just not happening.
"Many are lost in a maze of confusion, without the careers guidance, financial support, training or apprenticeships available, to help give them a good start in life."
He added: "We do not want the young people celebrating their GCSE results today to become one of the nearly one million 18 to 24-year-olds not in education, employment or training tomorrow.
"The future of the country rests on the choices that these young people make today, and the Government must give them concrete and clear choices for education, training or employment."
But Schools Minister Nick Gibb insisted: "Everyone accepts these are very challenging economic times - but no one should leave school unable to progress to work or further study.
"Record numbers of 16 and 17-year-olds are already in education or training and we are increasing that further with over 1.5 million places available from September - with every 16 and 17-year-old guaranteed a suitable place in sixth-form, college or work-based training."
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), called for an end to league tables, and warned that vocational qualifications are as important as traditional academic subjects.
"For all young people to be able to reach their full potential, we need to rid ourselves of this idea that an education system familiar to those who attended school towards the middle of the last century is the only way forward," she said.
"Despite what the Government may claim, many vocational qualifications and courses are of good quality and are equally important as, for instance, the English Baccalaureate much favoured by the Secretary of State.
"It is high time schools were freed from the tyranny of league tables and endless GCSE floor targets. They simply stand in the way of young people achieving the best for themselves, and their futures while creating an atmosphere of immense pressure for both the school and the pupil."
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: "The distinction between the academic and the vocational can be equally arbitrary. Vocational qualifications are not an emergency exit for unruly students; they need be no less demanding than traditional academic subjects.
"Similarly, some academic subjects are highly vocational and, taught creatively, accessible to almost all. In a world of rapid economic change and multiple careers, they are perhaps a better long-term bet than a specific trade or craft, which might be outsourced at a moment's notice."
He added: "Let's ensure that every GCSE is intellectually challenging, focus on high quality teaching, respect good qualifications - whether vocational or academic - and, above all, cease to rely on crude measures which encourage gaming at every level of the system."