The more young people come into contact with employers while they are at school, the less likely they are to go on to be unemployed, research suggests.
Pupils who took part in four or more activities with employers were five times less likely to drop out of school or training, it says.
Those who had no such contact were most likely to be not in education, employment or training.
Activities included work experience, visits and enterprise competition.
The most recent figures suggest one in five 16- to 24-year-olds are not in work, education or training in England.
The report for charity Education and Employers Taskforce looked at ways to prevent young people from dropping out.
It drew from a survey of nearly 1,000 19- to 24-year-olds about their current employment status and experiences of the world of work while there were at school.
And even small-scale contact with employers, such as visits from professionals to a school, was found to have a big impact on young people's prospects.
The reason contact with employers had such a positive impact was because they gained new, trustworthy information as well as useful contacts, the report says.
However, it suggests that former pupils from independent schools appeared to gain the most from experiences with employers.
Report author Dr Anthony Mann said his research suggested the impact was down to how the school approached these sessions with employers, rather than particularly keen individuals making the most of the opportunities available.
"A lot of people think that this is common sense stuff, but we have found the hard evidence for the first time.
"It shows a lot of a little goes a long way," he said.
He added that many young people who took part in work experience went on to get part-time jobs at those places.