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A shortage, or a gap?

The skills survey, for the second year, draws a distinction between shortages and gaps.

A shortage is defined as vacancies which are hard to fill because of a lack of people with the right skills, qualifications or experiences. This applied to 30,500 vacancies at the time of the survey, just 1.5 per cent of employees (although 44 per cent of vacancies).

But gaps, where the existing workforce is said to lack the necessary competences, are much more prevalent and have more serious consequences.

This affected 187,000 employees at the time of the survey, representing 9 per cent of the workforce and an increase on 2002.

Employers say aptitudes most often lacking are "soft skills" such as planning, problem-solving, handling customers and team-working - perhaps surprisingly, gaps occur most commonly among the low-skilled and less qualified.

Lack of IT skills is not seen as a problem.

Most businesses are ready to step up training to meet gaps and head off "multiple and potentially severe impacts on their business, including difficulties meeting customer service or quality objectives and increased operating costs".

Vacancies were greatest in lower-paid jobs demanding lower skills and qualifications - they were the equivalent of 7 per cent of employees in personal service jobs, compared with 1 per cent for managers and senior officials.

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