By Daniel Hunter

UK business leaders are calling for the Government to prioritise initiatives that help foster a skilled workforce as nearly two thirds of UK CEOs (65%) say a lack of key skills is hampering their growth prospects.

A global PwC survey of over 1,300 CEOs reveals UK business leaders are more concerned about the availability of key skills than any of their Western European counterparts, rating it as the greatest threat to their business’ growth.

The research shows businesses are looking to the Government to help them plug this skills gap. Three out of four UK CEOs said creating and encouraging a skilled workforce should be the Government’s highest priority for business for the year ahead.

This is in contrast to businesses’ own immediate investment priorities, with only a third of UK CEOs placing filling talent gaps as a major priority for the year ahead. Instead, they see it as a longer-term goal; with 70% of respondents saying they plan to increase investment in their workforce over the next three years.

The research reveals that mining, energy, and engineering and construction companies report the most chronic shortage of skilled employees.

“UK businesses are struggling with a widening mismatch between the skills of their workforce and the skills they need to achieve strong growth," Laura Hinton, human resources consulting partner at PwC, said.

"There needs to be a joint approach to addressing the problem, with business and Government working together to plug the skills gap. Apprenticeship programmes are a great example of where business and the Government are already working together to tackle this issue.

“At a time when growth is top of all businesses’ agendas, investment in employee training and development should be a key priority for CEOs for the year ahead rather than a longer-term aspiration.”

The research reveals UK businesses are planning to hire this year, with more UK businesses planning to increase their headcount (45%) than make cuts (35%). The remaining respondents (17%) expect their headcount to remain relatively static.

“Despite the difficult economic backdrop, it is encouraging that UK businesses are continuing to hire. While headcount has been an obvious target for cost cutting in the past, many business leaders are finding smarter ways to strip costs out of their business which won’t damage their employees’ engagement and leave them with talent shortages in the future," Laura Hinton, human resources consulting partner at PwC, said.

“The most successful companies will combine recruitment with developing the people they already have. Those with a balanced approach to growing their own talent and buying in key skills are most likely to succeed."

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