A Europe-wide survey of 50,000 adults has been launched to assess the extent of the so-called skills mismatch.
The workers to be questioned in the exercise, which will report back early next year, will be drawn from across the European Union's 28 member states. The EU has the highest unemployment rate of anywhere in the world apart from the Middle East and North Africa, with youth unemployment a particular problem.
In 2013, almost a quarter of young people aged 15-24 in the EU labour market were unemployed. But a report published last year by US-based management consultancy McKinsey found that employers across the EU were struggling to find recruits with the skills they needed.
In the survey of eight EU countries including the UK, a third of employers said that lack of skills was causing major business problems in the form of cost, quality or time, while 27 per cent reported that it was a major reason they did not fill vacancies.
McKinsey said that providers, employers and young people operated in "parallel universes", and that outside the UK and Germany only 50 per cent of employers reported interacting with education providers several times a year or more.
However, a recent report by the World Economic Forum found no evidence that skill levels collapsed during the global economic crisis. It states that although the mismatch between what schools and colleges are producing and what employers want has become more pronounced since the crisis, the gap already existed before 2008.
The new survey will examine the causes of the skills mismatch and the extent to which vocational education and training can address the problem. It will look at changing education and skill needs in a number of occupations and assess which skills are valued by employers.