§ Mr. Stephen O'Brien
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what recent assessment she has made of skills shortages in the United Kingdom. 
§ Ms Hewitt
Last week I jointly launched the National Employer Skills Survey 2003 which was the largest survey of its kind ever commissioned. A total of 72,100 interviews were conducted with employees from 27 industries. This survey provides robust and detailed statistical information about the extent, causes and implications of England's recruitment problems and skill shortages.
NESS suggested that at any one time there are 250,000 job vacancies that are hard to fill and of these 135,000 cannot be filled because of skill shortages. The skilled trades are hardest hit by skill shortages and represent 18 per cent. of the hard to fill vacancies due to skill shortages.
Skills gaps among those in the workforce are more acute with employers stating that almost 2½ million employees (11 per cent. of the total English workforce) are lacking skills needed to do their job effectively.