More than one in every 10 workers in England are incompetent at their jobs, a survey of 72,100 employers suggests.
Many vacancies are left unfilled due to skills shortages
Bosses said inexperience was the main problem - though lack of motivation and their own failure to train staff were reported by almost a third.
A fifth of job vacancies were unfilled due to skill shortages, and business was being lost to competitors.
The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) carried out the poll to discover where it needed to focus its efforts.
The LSC is responsible for all post-16 education and training outside universities, including funding school sixth forms, further education colleges, work-based learning and adult education.
It says the survey of a representative sample of organisations of all sizes in 27 industries, between April and June last year, was the biggest of its kind.
1 in 5 job vacancies unfilled because of skill shortages
worst shortages in wood and paper industry (46%), construction (38%) and transport equipment (35%)
83% reported increased workload for other employees
52% - customer service targets unmet
44% - loss of business or orders going to competitors
41% - delays in new product development
38% - increased operating costs/reduced profits
A total of 2.4 million workers were classed by their employers as not being fully proficient in their current job - equivalent to 11% of the total workforce, the LSC said.
And 22% of employers said their workforce's skills were not up to scratch - resulting in higher operating costs, orders being lost and new product development being delayed.
There was also an increased workload for people who did know what they were doing.
About 135,000 vacancies were going unfilled because the necessary skills were not available, employers said.
Lack of training
The LSC said other recent research had pointed to contracts or jobs being exported as a result.
Accountants Ernst and Young had put industry losses through lack of basic skills "as high as £10bn annually".
The new survey suggested four in every five employers were addressing skills deficiencies - but even where training was provided, only half of employees benefited.
And 40% of employers had provided no training in the previous 12 months.
The LSC's chief executive, Mark Haysom, said English businesses needed a strategy for staff training and development to remain competitive.
"We need businesses to recognise the issues at stake here and work in partnership with us."
22% reported skills gaps in existing workforce
11% of all employees not fully proficient in current
sales and customer service staff worst
biggest problem (72%) employees lacking experience
but also 'lack of motivation' (33%), 'failure to train staff' (29%) and 'not keeping up with change' (27%)
Mr Haysom discussed the findings last Thursday with the Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, and the Chancellor, Gordon Brown.
The Department for Education and Skills said the survey showed that skill
deficiencies affected a relatively small number of workplaces and the situation had improved recently.
"However we are far from complacent, as we know problems with recruitment and skill deficiencies have a profound, long-term effect on the economy.
"It is very encouraging that the survey shows that employers see training as a vital part of the solution to recruitment and skill problems."
The Association of Colleges complained on Monday that government funding for adult learning in many colleges would be reduced in the next two years.
It predicted that "up to 70,000 courses will be cut".
I have been working in the Engineering sector for 17 years, first as a Craftsman working through to Planner and then Craft Superintendent. I am now hitting a glass ceiling because I have no degree, only HNC, but am expected to teach all my Engineering experience to some wet behind the ears Graduate who in two years time will be promoted above me after climbing on my back to get there. Talk about demoralising. Until companies recognise that skills and training are gleaned in the workplace and not at Universities, the sooner we will have a more skilled workforce.
Poorly motivated staff are the root cause of the problems which face industry and business. All one has to do is to pick up any management book and find that missing in most is a chapter on `motivating individuals'. If you don't invest in people and show commitment - you will fail them. Problems occur when those `trained' in management see their goal as self preservation and profit as the central, primary objectives. People are the only asset a business has. So train them and invest.
Declan Groves, Leeds
Skills are grossly undervalued in this country. As a result, skilled workers get paid less in comparison to administrators; not surprising really, administrators determine the pay scales. As to incompetence, industry should take a leaf out of the Civil Service and Military handbook where incompetent people are promoted out of the way; that way they can do less harm.
Mick Ames, Malvern, UK
I think one of the problems is how the workplace relationships are conducted. When the worker is incompetent, the management doesn't let him/her know early enough to correct him/herself. The management sometimes expect the worker to realise that he is not doing his/her work properly. I think most of the incompetent workers find themselves as "good workers". It is so unfair that an incompetent worker has a job and some very competent and talented ones are out on the streets looking for one.
James, London, UK
Lack of motivation could be caused, in some cases, by the introduction of the minimum wage. This did not lose jobs as predicted, but now seems to give employers a new starting point for pay.
Fortunately, the days of the big company looking after you for life are gone. For the last 25 years I have always identified where I needed training, then set about getting it, preferably with someone else paying, but if not, then I've paid myself. I now have four degrees, am a chartered engineer, and own and manage my own company. Many of your correspondents seem to be complaining that no one is looking out for their training needs. As an employer I will choose the best person for the job, and if they ask me for training I will always consider that against the needs of the business.
John Russell, Sawbridgeworth, Herts
It should come as no surprise that one in ten of the workforce are incompetent. The real question should be why are they all in boardrooms!
Neil Richards, Paddock Wood UK
I wonder if the 22% complaining of a skills gap are also in the 29% that can't be bothered with training? The main problem with the UK workforce is not the employees, but the employers who do not see investment in their employees as worthwhile.
Simon, Luton, UK
Who defines a "skills gap"? I may have the skills for a given job in the IT industry but the money being offered to do it is so low that I find other jobs that pay better. This "skills gap" is then used to allow lower paid foreign workers in. There is no "skills gap" (at least in the IT world), employers simply won't pay a decent salary for the work that needs to be done, if there is a cheaper alternative.
Lloyd, Manchester, England
I have been trying to get some training in my company for over 2 years - it's ridiculous because it always goes on 'hold'. I am really keen to learn and develop, but companies do need to support this. It's not fair because some employees in my company do get adequate training, whilst others (like me) don't. It depends on each department head - and they are not all the same.
Elizabeth Heart, Surrey
I think a very important factor as well is communication breakdown in terms of language and accent barriers as well as ignoring team working. If there is no communication then how can a worker even know what it is they're supposed to be doing let alone how to do it...
David Hilton, Hudds, UK
I've been working in IT for 24 years but will be surprised if I see a 25th year as my skills are now somewhat dated. I've looked at funding my own training. The problem is finding work afterwards as training doesn't seem to count for much. Employers don't seem to be interested unless you have at least one year's hands-on experience, preferably two, regardless of how long you've been in the business.
James Broughton, Dunmow, Essex
I have quite a responsible job in a major property management developer company and I have no idea what I am doing. This is not due to lack of willing but capability on my part. I went for the job hoping i could sneak in without being found out. This i achieved. I think their on to me now though.
Incompetent (and sometimes uncaring) management leads to poor motivation, even in those who are highly skilled and experienced. This can often create the impression of incompetence on the part of the subordinate even when the reverse is true. Another 'feature' of British management can be seen in ageism, where youth counts for more than qualifications or experience. In my case a multi-lingual chartered engineer over fifty-five working as a storeman.
Peter, Basingstoke, England
There is something striking in a situation where a graduate student with two Masters degrees is struggling to find a job and there is an article claiming that most of the work force is incompetent. In my view, a large part of the problem lies with incompetent management who is afraid to hire highly educated young professionals who may pose a threat to this manager's future. Low pay and lack of vision is partly responsible for high levels of incompetence. If you pay peanuts, you are bound to get monkeys...
Lora Smith, London, UK
One should also ask workers how many bosses are incompetent. Lack of motivation can be caused by poor rewards and working conditions, and only employers are in a position to improve those.
Ray Girvan, Exeter, UK
I used to work for a firm that did not give our team adequate training. It was a customer facing job, done by people with often little or no customer services experience, but we were only trained on how to operate the computer based systems we had to use. The result was that the team lacked motivation to succeed, and we regarded ourselves as very undervalued, even though we were the first point of contact for solving problems for the businesses we were selling to. This helped caused a high staff turnover which exacerbated the problem. Companies need to wake up to the need to train employees and regard them all as valuable people, or they will never succeed.
Phil, Loughborough, UK
The skills gap is a result of managers failing to do their jobs - to properly manage their staff and the working environment. Bad management leads to poor morale and no motivation. It's a simple rule but an effective one.
James Dowling, Birmingham, England
Having worked in the software industry for over 20 years, I am dismayed by the lack of relevant training provided by almost every company I have worked for. It is impossible for me to fund in my own time the training in the latest techniques and products that companies increasingly demand skills in. I am now seriously considering leaving software engineering because I can no longer compete in a career where fresh graduates are valued more highly than experienced workers.
Nick, Cambridge, UK
I agree there are a lot of workers who are incompetent. But this applies to managers too. Often incompetent managers are asked to report on staff who are more able. This can cause conflict and often the incapable manager will down play the contribution made by capable employees. In extreme circumstances they may even try to present the employee as incompetent to make up for there own deficiencies. I just wonder how often this applies in the statistics given.
Albert, Harrow, England