More than one in five employers in Oxfordshire are experiencing skills gaps in their workforce, according to a major survey of the county’s businesses. The figure of 21 per cent represents a five per cent rise from 2008 when the Oxfordshire Employer Skills Survey was last carried out.

Other findings of the 2010 study, commissioned in partnership between the Oxfordshire Economic Partnership (OEP) and Oxford Brookes University, show: n Despite the economic downturn, almost three in ten Oxfordshire businesses consider recruitment a problem.

n Employers are most likely to report difficulties recruiting professional and technical staff, or highly-skilled specialists.

n Motivation is becoming an increasingly important recruitment criterion.

n Businesses have a positive outlook for the next year, with two thirds expecting turnover to grow.

Across the region, there are particular Higher Level Skills (HLS) gaps in leadership and management, customer care, and in specific sectors such as accountancy, child protection, media and human resources.

As in 2008, 11 per cent of employers said recruitment of HLS staff had become more difficult, largely due to a lack of applicants with the right skills.

The report suggests both further education and higher education have a role to play in bridging the training and workforce development gap. Twelve per cent of employers train staff at further education institutions, and nine per cent use universities.

Now Oxford Brookes has created a programme tailored to meet business needs and train workers in the required skills.

Paul Large, Oxford Brookes registrar, explained: “Oxford Brookes is in a good position to support business by drawing on research and expertise to provide practical solutions.

“The Workforce Development Initiative we have drawn up is about designing and delivering accessible university-accredited programmes that are of real benefit to both employers and employees.”

Forty-six per cent of Oxfordshire employees work in highly-skilled industries. and 29 per cent of the county’s businesses are dependent on HLS staff. This reflects the region’s status as a centre for high technology manufacturing and research and development.

David Doughty, chief executive of the OEP, said: “Once again, the employer skills survey has highlighted the need to improve the overall level of workforce skills in the county.

“It is an urgent call for action to businesses, education providers and the local authorities to work together to address these skills issues and ensure that we can compete effectively now, and in the future.”