More than 40 per cent of employers say they are disappointed with the basic literacy skills of higher education graduates.
Results of a survey of 500 employers by the Australian Industry Group also found that 36 per cent were not satisfied with graduates' numeracy skills.
Chief executive Innes Willox told a national universities forum in Canberra yesterday that higher education providers were not turning out graduates with the skills that employers expected.
He said the results of the unpublished survey showed that most ratings were generally satisfactory, though not high in areas such as planning and organising (49.3 per cent) and initiative and enterprise (50.9 per cent).
"It is hard, however, to look past the figure that only 58 per cent of employers are satisfied or very satisfied with basic literacy and English of graduates," he said.
Mr Willox said before Australia could build an economy of the future, it needed the basic building blocks of good literacy, numeracy and language skills in place.
"Our looming literacy and numeracy deficits and the comparative disadvantage we are placing ourselves in while we seek to compete in an increasingly globalised economy mean that if we aren't in a crisis now, our workplaces of the future certainly will be," he said. Mr Willox said employers knew they had to train employees on the job, but they were increasingly asking if the pool they had to select from was capable enough to adapt to the workplace.
WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry advocacy general manager Tim Bray said some members were concerned about the English standards of graduates but this could be attributed to a range of factors across the education system.
The recent decision by the State Government to test students on their literacy skills before graduation would help prove they had met the appropriate standard before entering the workforce.
"Employers also have a role to play," he said. "There is an opportunity to identify good talent by encouraging more work placements opportunities for students at under graduate and graduate programs to better understand the workforce requirements needed."