While the CBI's employment trends survey shows a decisive shift in the attitude of employees toward flexibility and companies toward the need for training, both service and manufacturing sectors reported a debilitating lack of qualified staff.
The study of 671 companies employing 2.4 million workers found that only 27 per cent of firms experienced a shortage of job applicants, but 71 per cent said there was a serious lack of qualified recruits. Researchers also found that nearly a fifth of companies either expected a claim for statutory union recognition or thought it was possible because of the "Fairness at Work" White Paper.
Since the survey was conducted by the CBI and consultants William M Mercer, the Government has decided that recognition would only be granted where 40 per cent of the workforce opted for it, not just the majority in a ballot. However, ministers also propose awarding automatic recognition where more than half of the relevant staff are union members.
Larger companies were more likely to expect a claim. Almost a quarter of organisations with more than 5,000 employees expected an approach from unions and a similar proportion believed it was possible.
Just 7 per cent of companies employing between 200 and 499 people felt there would be a claim, with 17 per cent believing it was possible. For those companies with up to 199 staff, the figures were 3 per cent and 16 per cent respectively.
Ten per cent of manufacturing and service sector companies thought unions would seek an agreement. Only 2 per cent had withdrawn union recognition in the last five years.
Adair Turner, CBI, director general, pointed to the "sheer variety" of employment policies and practices which now existed throughout business.
There were serious skills shortages, but there was evidence that companies were responding, he said.
Over 60 per cent of respondents in the survey now used competency and skill-based schemes for determining pay.
The study found that the growth of flexible working patterns was set to continue. Almost half of respondents used more temporary staff. Some 42 per cent of service sector companies plan to increase their use of homeworking and 34 per cent "teleworking."