Only one in five firms has taken on an apprentice in the past year and even fewer will change their hiring plans amid increasing concern about poor basic skills such as numeracy and literacy, a report has revealed.
A survey of 6,000 firms by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) discovered that almost half said it was difficult to find a suitable candidate for a vacancy.
Many firms complained that jobseekers did not have the right skills, including poor timekeeping, communication, numeracy and literacy.
Business also lacked confidence in qualifications including degrees and A-levels while only one in five firms was happy about taking on a public sector worker.
Only one in 10 said they were confident about recruiting someone who had been unemployed for six months or longer.
With youth unemployment almost reaching a million, the BCC report called for changes to the education system to improve school-leavers' skills.
The BCC called for business economics to be taught in schools, and said communication skills must be improved.
The survey found that only 20 per cent of businesses took on an apprentice in the year to April 2011 and fewer will be hired in the coming year despite the Prime Minister urging businesses to take on more apprentices.
Of those businesses that had not taken on an apprentice, over half said they were not relevant to their sector, suggesting the apprenticeship system is not tailored to the needs of business, said the report.
John Longworth, director general of the BCC, said: "We applaud the Government's commitment to apprenticeships. Yet our statistics show that the quality level of many apprenticeships is not high enough, and too few businesses see apprenticeships as relevant to their sector."