Problems with youth unemployment across the country risk being sidelined because of a focus on urban centres, politicians have been warned.
Lord Smith of Kelvin, who led an investigation into joblessness, said there is "astonishing poverty" in rural areas.
He told MSPs on Holyrood's Finance Committee that the Scottish Government must "steer companies" towards those areas to avoid them becoming "totally depopulated".
Asked about the situation in rural Scotland, Lord Smith said: "Just because the sun is shining right now and there are green hills around Peebles and Gala - it looks idyllic - but it's actually very, very tough.
"Some of the jobs that fill the gap down there are one-man-band type things. There are very, very little businesses that can take on people."
He said opportunities exist in inner cities, particularly with the focus on the upcoming Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
But he warned: "We need to look further afield than that, unless we want these places to become totally depopulated. We don't want to do that. These people have families and connections and so on.
"Keep Queen Margaret University. Keep the Highlands and Islands University. Make sure there are learning areas to go to there.
"I think it's a job for government to try to steer companies into those areas.
"Their brains are just as good as they are in the inner city. It's just that for a lot of them, they don't want to travel."
Lord Smith, also chairman of Scottish and Southern Energy, said it would be a "disaster" if rural colleges or university campuses were closed.
He referred to the Crichton Campus in Dumfries which brings to together the University of Glasgow, University of the West of Scotland (UWS) and Dumfries and Galloway College.
Lord Smith, also chancellor of UWS, said he often wonders what will become of the graduates.
"It must be quite crushing for graduates to come out and end up – what's the traditional thing? – stacking shelves in a supermarket or something," he added.
He made the comments at the Scottish Parliament four months after his independent group published a report to ministers with recommendations on how to improve youth employment prospects.
Official figures released in March show that about 103,000 people aged between 16 and 24 are out of work in Scotland.
The first UK youth jobs summit was held in Dundee on March 15 to give government ministers from London and Edinburgh the opportunity to tackle the problem.