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As the UK carves out a new economic future following the vote to leave the EU, ensuring everyone has the skills to compete is more important than ever, according to the CBI and Pearson.

Yet acute skills shortages are holding back businesses across all regions and many sectors, including manufacturing, construction and professional services.

The survey of nearly 500 companies, together employing over three million people, was completed before the EU referendum and shows firms anticipating a growing skills gap. Leaving the European Union only heightens the urgency for action.

Business commitment to developing current and future talent remains strong – but there are real concerns about some policies, according to the survey. The Apprenticeship Levy is a particular worry – the Department for Education, with an expanded remit, will need to give serious consideration to the current design and timetable.

There is a welcome, growing demand for higher skills: over three quarters of businesses (77%) expecting to have more jobs for people with higher-level skills over the coming years and needing more people with intermediate-level and leadership and management skills (balances of +42% and +67% respectively).

Firms are committed to developing talent in-house: with only 42% of training done externally, the majority use an in-house dedicated training and development budget (76%), mentoring and coaching opportunities (68%) or support employees to study part-time (73%). But there is a concern about future shortages: over two-thirds of businesses (69%) are not confident about filling their high-skilled jobs in future (up from 55% in 2015).

Josh Hardie, CBI deputy director-general, said: “A successful future for the whole UK rests on our education and skills system. Following the vote to leave the EU, the UK must carve out a new economic future and this is an area where we must take action to support our competitiveness and prosperity.

“There are very positive signs throughout the country with more businesses supporting schools, offering careers advice and investing in workplace training – firms need to keep upping their game in this area.

“Skills are a top business priority but over two-thirds of firms don’t think they will be able to get the people they need. Getting the skills and education system right across the country, particularly in partnership with the devolved nations, will be a big challenge ahead for the new Secretary of State.

“The recent announcement of new high-quality vocational routes to sit alongside A-levels was a positive step towards increasing access into skilled careers and something the CBI has called for repeatedly.

“Now the priority is getting the Apprenticeship Levy fit-for-purpose as it will need a genuine change of direction if it is to work for apprentices, business and the economy. Nine months out from the planned start date businesses still lack vital information – the new administration should take the time to get this right.

“Business remains committed to working with them to achieve this – but time is running out.”