Northern Irish businesses are being held back by shortages of major skills among their staff, a new report claims.
Almost one-third of businesses in Northern Ireland who replied to a survey by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) reported shortages of major skills in their workforce, the organisation said.
Problems were worse in Northern Irish businesses than in other UK regions with respect to communication skills, customer service skills, basic IT skills and foreign languages, but were found to be slightly better than other regions with respect to advanced IT skills, sales and marketing skills, technical skills and literacy.
Particular difficulties were encountered by businesses looking to recruit new staff in Northern Ireland, the report said, with 63 per cent of firms saying that they had problems finding new recruits with managerial skills, followed by communication skills (59 per cent) and customer service skills (53 per cent).
The organisation believes that education, training and skills are key to small businesses and the wider economy.
"A competent workforce equipped with the necessary skills and attributes needed to perform their job function is essential for a small firm to compete in the marketplace," said FSB policy chairman Wilfred Mitchell.
The organisation has called for a merger of the Northern Irish Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) and Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) to create a new "skills-led enterprise economy".