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Small firms get task force against skill shortages

A task force of leaders has been set up by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) to deal with the widespread skills shortages that are said to be hindering small firms' competitiveness.

The move comes as the organisation, which claims to represent 110,000 business of all types and sizes, published research indicating the problem is as serious as ever.

The survey conducted with Alex Lawrie, a finance company that is part of the Lloyds TSB group, found that nearly a third of firms believe they are being held back by "inadequate levels of skills in both sales and management staff". Computing and other information technology skills shortages remain particularly acute, with firms claiming particular problems with managerial and clerical staff.

In addition to being worried about the effect of such shortages on rising wages, business owners echo other industrialists in expressing concern about the ability of the education system to meet their needs. More than 60 per cent of the 343 firms surveyed believe that school leavers lack basic writing skills, while 38 per cent feel the same about graduates. More than half were also critical of graduates' understanding of the business world.

The survey also found that, while take-up of such formal initiatives as National Vocational Qualifications and Investors in People is generally low, most small firms provide training - largely through on-the-job and specific short courses.

The BCC action comes as Barclays Bank makes another attempt to persuade small business owners of the benefits of obtaining professional advice with two new guides, Getting the Best from you Business Adviser and Developing Relationships with Businesses.

Both are aimed at improving understanding between business managers and their advisers of their respective needs and priorities