A new survey adds further credence to the view that a looming UK skills shortage could hobble economic recovery.

In the immediate term, the skills famine is likely to drive demand for independent professionals such as Umbrella Company Employees; however, a new study by HSBC and The Prince’s Trust suggests that the professional contracting community alone cannot plug the widening skills abyss. Over two-thirds of the 616 business leaders polled believed that the economic recovery could be halted by the skills shortage.

More than half reported that they were facing persistent difficulties in filling advertised vacancies, while one-third reported that they often could not find sufficiently-trained applicants to fill entry-level positions – despite the fact that youth unemployment remains stubbornly high at 817,000.

Paul Brown, a Prince’s Trust director, compared the UK scenario with Germany, where the educational system does not place vocational skills below academic skills in value. UK companies, he said, are facing deficits in basic literacy, numeracy and IT skills, and even in “softer” skills such as teamwork, communication and customer service.

Employers, he said, should not be turning away young applicants but providing them with on-the-job training.

Mr Brown’s views were echoed by HSBC UK chief executive António Simões, who said: “It is essential that we invest in young people now and equip them with the skills that both they and British businesses need to thrive.”

The Prince’s Trust chief executive, Martina Milburn, concurred, adding: “The economic recovery is encouraging, but in order to sustain this growth [British business] needs to invest in the next generation to avoid a skills vacuum in the future, which threatens to hamper economic growth.”

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