Tackling the skills shortage is key to turning the UK into a successful "innovation nation", according to the government — which has set out its vision for promoting the uptake of new ideas in a Department of Innovation Universities and Skills (Dius) whitepaper.
The UK's long-standing skills crisis, and the reluctance of employers to invest in training, are both identified as barriers to future success.
In the report, the secretary of state for innovation, universities and skills, John Denham, said: "We want to create an 'innovation nation' because Britain can only prosper in a globalised economy if we unlock the talents of all of our people."
While the UK's productivity performance has been improving steadily since 1997, it still lags behind some leading international competitors, according to the paper, which claims up to one-fifth of the productivity gap is due to lack of skills.
And there are "long-standing weaknesses in the UK's skills base", it adds, pointing out that while "participation in higher education has increased rapidly, too many people of working age have few qualifications and one-third of businesses do not invest at all in training".
A recent research report polling UK graduates and school leavers backs up this view of "training-shy" employers — just 12 percent of the 1,000 survey respondents said they had received any formal training at work.
Responding to the white paper, Karen Price, chief executive of IT sector skills body e-skills UK, said she welcomed the recognition of "the vital role of IT and IT skills in innovation".
She said in a statement: "Technology enables and accelerates innovation, helping companies of all sizes and across all sectors to improve productivity and competitiveness."
But technology trade association Intellect was less impressed by the government's innovation strategy, criticising the white paper for not putting more emphasis on technology. It said in a statement: "It is regrettable that in a time when our international competitors like India and China are investing heavily in skills and education in technology, our government is not."
Intellect said its primary concern is the lack of support and funding for computer-science students.
The full Innovation Nation white paper can be found on the Dius website.