By Maximilian Clarke

Businesses are still struggling to hire the right staff due to a severe skills shortage that threatens the UK recovery, the British Chambers of Commerce have said.

At a time of soaring unemployment, businesses are being deterred from boosting headcount due to serious lack of even such basic skills as literacy and numeracy, as well as broader failures in communication and timekeeping amongst job applicants.

A report, Skills for Business: More to Learn?, published today (Friday) by the business organisation, queried some 6,000 businesses. It found over half of employers are not confident about the abilities of graduates and school leavers. Apprenticeships have been proposed as one practical step towards boosting skills in specific sectors, though just 15% of businesses intend to hire apprenticeships, suggesting that the current scheme does not meet the needs of many firms.

Apprenticeships are an important way of improving the UK’s skills base, and giving young people opportunities beyond the classroom. However the government must work to improve the perception of the apprenticeship system among businesses, and improve its structure. Many businesses find that the frameworks for apprenticeships are too rigid and can’t keep up with the developments in some industries. More flexible frameworks would allow apprentices to choose from different modules that could better mirror their career paths, and the needs of more businesses.

"People are at the heart of every successful business,” said John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce. “Developing the capability of our workforce is crucial for individual companies as well as the UK's economic competitiveness. Our survey results prove what we have known for some time: UK companies continue to invest in their workforce, and they still want to take on staff and expand despite a difficult economic climate. However, the results also confirm that many firms looking to recruit are stymied by the poor skills available within the local labour pool. “

“Even at a time of record youth unemployment, firms lack confidence in our education system's ability to deliver basic literacy and numeracy skills. But employers also want to see young people with a strong worth ethic, and those 'softer' skills like timekeeping, and communication, which are fundamental in the work environment.”


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