Ruth Davidson is calling for 10 specialist skills academies to be created to give young Scots “world-beating training” in a range of different vocations.
The Scottish Conservative leader said the country “desperately needs” a more skilled workforce.
She wants the Scottish Government to set a target of creating 10 skills academies by the end of the decade, which could train people in areas such as IT, engineering and construction.
Ms Davidson made the call as she visited the BAE Systems shipyard in Glasgow and met apprentices, as the Tories made skills and training a key focus of the election campaign.
She said: “Scotland has a desperate need for a more skilled workforce - yet in recent years we’ve seen college places cut and funding reduced.
“We need to value a vocational education at least as much as an academic one.
“The current imbalance is absurd and desperately needs to be addressed.
“So today we are calling for Government to set a target to open 10 new skills academies across Scotland by the end of this decade - academies which would give young people the chance to get world-beating training in everything from IT to engineering and construction.
“We must do better. By bringing industry and Government together, we can make Scotland the skills capital of Europe.”
She added: “BAE Systems is a great example of a major firm which is investing in the next generation and helping to provide them with the skills to succeed, and we applaud them for their efforts.
“It is tremendously encouraging to meet a new generation of apprentices who see shipbuilding on the Clyde as more than just our heritage, but rather a key part of our future too.”
The Tories also want the number of modern apprenticeships in Scotland to be increased to 35,000 a year, and have set out plans to invest more than £100 million in colleges over the course of the next parliament to reverse the decline in student numbers.
Ms Davidson has pledged further education will receive the extra cash if her party wins May’s Holyrood election, amounting to £60 million a year by the end of the next Holyrood term in 2021.