The Forum of Private Business's latest member survey on employment and skills revealed that 63% of employers rate a positive attitude to work as the key requirement, with around half noting the importance of basic skills.
But the survey, which polled Forum members about the likelihood of them recruiting in the near future, also suggested many small businesses are waiting for employment costs to come down and profit margins to go up before they take on more staff. Almost one in three (29%) described the former as ‘crucial' before they would recruit, and 25% for the latter.
The Forum said the data could suggest gloomy news for employment figures over the summer, which could well stagnate into 2014.
"While the Employment Allowance announcement in the Budget was received positively by small businesses, this research shows many firms are holding back on recruitment until after next April when the new measures take effect and NI costs drop," said the Forum's Chief Executive, Phil Orford.
"We can also see that a significant number of employers are waiting for a marked change in profit levels – and therefore significant economic growth – before they consider taking on more staff.
"Most forecasts are not pointing to that type of growth in the UK until much later in the year. Put those two notions together and the suggestion is that the 2013 job figures are going to remain pretty subdued for some time yet, and quite possibly even in to early next year before there's any meaningful downward trend in unemployment.
He added: "There is clearly a pressing need for government to do more to reduce the cost of employment to incentivise SMEs to employ. We said after the Budget the Employment Allowance was a great move, but that it was too far off with the economy still in the doldrums. This research seems to suggest we had a point."
Commenting on the other aspects of the Forum member research, Mr Orford said school leavers who lacked job-ready skills and a work ethic was something that had been a frequent complaint from employers.
"Time after time, this type of study identifies a lack of employment-ready youngsters. Above all else, employers need, but often can't find, youngsters ready to hit the ground running – starting with a positive work ethic," he said.
The Forum's latest research here follows the successful application by Knutsford Academy in Cheshire to open The Studio – a new school specialising in employability training and skills, which the not-for-profit group is involved in. The Studio will develop youngsters through work-based activities developed and delivered in partnership with employers. It will also teach students the essential skills for the world of work through the Deloitte Employability Skills Initiative.
The Forum has committed to offering work experience placements at its Cheshire-based head office in addition to helping find further placements at their members' businesses.
"The Studio school in Cheshire is a fantastic opportunity to deliver a more work-focused curriculum to meet the skills requirements of local employers," added Orford. "It's what businesses want and hopefully we can help deliver."
The right attitude to work and a strong set of basic skills remain at the top of employers' wish lists when it comes to hiring new recruits, a new study has shown.