AROUND a quarter of big firms in Scotland think shortages of qualified staff could cause them to collapse as the country grapples with a skills crisis that threatens to slam the brakes on the economic recovery.
The finding is contained in a report by The Prince's Trust and HSBC bank that sheds dramatic new light on skills shortages, which are seen as a big potential curb on growth in the country.
The study found 27 per cent of firms with more than 500 employees in Scotland said skills shortages were so bad they feared they would cause their business to fold.
It revealed widespread concern about the issue in Scotland, where 37 per cent of firms believe a significant skills crisis will hit their organisations within the next 12 months. Some 69 per cent in total think one will happen within three years.
Around three quarters, 73 per cent, think skills shortages could choke off the recovery in the UK.
The report adds to the body of evidence that skills shortages are a big issue in Scotland, although it suggests problems may be more severe in other parts of the UK.
The recovery that has gathered pace in recent months may have made things worse. Many firms are facing challenges responding to increased demand.
More than 45 per cent of Scottish businesses surveyed are already experiencing skills gaps.
The Prince's Trust said employers in sectors like construction, retail, health and social care and logistics had expressed concern about skills shortages.
Oil and gas industry leaders have been warning about skills shortages for some time, amid a boom in activity in the North Sea stoked by strong demand for energy in Asia.
Big firms may face increased competition for staff from small and medium sized enterprises this year. Research by Clydesdale Bank found four out of 10 Scottish SMEs intend to recruit new staff in 2014.
Allan Watt, director of The Prince's Trust Scotland, said: "It is deeply concerning that employers across Scotland are struggling to fill vacancies when we have thousands of unemployed young people who are desperate for work."
He added: "Scotland needs to invest in the next generation to avoid a skills vacuum in the future."
Mr Watt noted businesses had to get more young people qualified for work both to fill existing vacancies and replace workers who retire.
The Prince's Trust is working with a range of employers in Scotland, including Arnold Clark, to help young people get the skills they need.
The car sales giant runs a "Get into Car Mechanics" scheme that it says allows trainees to get qualifications and a job while helping it to find employees.
More than 70 people have completed the six-week programme in its Glasgow training centre.
Managing director Eddie Hawthorne, said: "The trainees have shown great enthusiasm throughout and have risen to every challenge."
The Prince's Trust Scotland aims to help 9,000 unemployed young people get training in sectors with skills shortages. It wants employers to help it support more young people.
The Scottish Council for Development and Industry, with many business members, said employers need to play a key role in the effort to ensure young people have the skills and confidence needed to succeed in a fast changing world.
Princes Trust found 35 per cent of respondents in the UK agreed their business could fold as a consequence of skills shortages.
Some 43 per cent of UK respondents said a significant skills crisis will hit their organisations within 12 months while 73 per cent think one will hit within three years.
The Princes Trust spoke to 616 companies in the UK with more than 500 employees, including 62 in Scotland, from a range of business sectors.