Colleges are less responsive to employers' needs than private training providers and even universities, according to the third annual education and skills survey from the Confederation of British Industry.
The survey report, Ready to grow: business priorities for education and skills, found that 43 per cent of the 694 employers surveyed were satisfied with colleges' responsiveness to their training requirements, compared with 65 per cent for private providers and 48 per cent for universities.
Seven out of 10 employers called for qualifications that match their skills requirements.
Concerns remain over basic skills, with a fifth of employers reporting that they had offered remedial training to those fresh out of school or college. The bigger challenge is finding employees with intermediate and higher level skills.
Three-quarters of companies expect growth in leadership and management posts, while nearly three in five expect difficulties in recruiting employees with science, technology, engineering and maths skills.
Despite the economic situation, 58 per cent of employers plan to keep training spending at current levels, though nearly 70 per cent want to make it more cost-effective.
An Association of Colleges (AoC) spokesperson in England said: "These are challenging results for colleges in terms of responsiveness but our members continue to be constrained by a high level of government bureaucracy."
The AoC's pre-election manifesto said that reduced bureaucracy and greater autonomy would streamline the UK skills system and allow colleges to respond more effectively to employers.
The survey covers employers throughout the UK: a quarter of those taking part have operations in all parts of the country and 5 per cent are in Scotland.