About 40 per cent of Australian businesses are finding it difficult to recruit staff despite the subdued labour market, research shows.
The Bankwest Skills Shortage Survey found that 41 per cent of businesses were taking three months longer to recruit staff than a year ago.
Bankwest business chief executive Ian Corfield said if businesses were finding it difficult to recruit while the economy had slowed, the problem would only get worse once it picked up again.
"If this is where we are at now, if the economy does pick up over the next couple of years then we're going to be quickly back to the types of challenges we had in 2007 where people just couldn't find skilled labour," he said.
"That's a genuine impediment on the Australian economy if we can't resolve it over time."
The survey was taken after it was reported recently that official job vacancies nationwide dropped from 237,000 in 2010 to 219,000 in 2011.
The unemployment rate has risen by 0.2 percentage points over the past year to be 5.2 per cent in March, but if not for declining labour force participation, would have risen by a full percentage point to 6.0 per cent.
Mr Corfield said skilled migration needed to be increased, particularly in the mining states, and the number of graduates and apprentices from universities or training programs needed to be higher.
Mr Corfield said the problem was worse in the mining states, Queensland and Western Australia, where skilled workers were attracted to high-paying jobs in the resources sector.
This has led to a shortage of machinery operators and drivers who opted for more lucrative paying jobs in mining towns.
"The mining sector is definitely having the same issue but because they have got bigger turnovers and margins they can solve the issue by paying more," Mr Corfield said.
Although there were a large number of graduates or other inexperienced candidates looking for work, the hardest employees to recruit were those with three to seven years' experience, the research said.
The research found that 39.7 per cent of respondents found it harder to recruit staff with three to seven years' experience than 12 months ago, but 59.1 per cent found it easier to fill positions requiring less than two years' experience over the same period.
Mr Corfield said more experienced employees tend to have more financial responsibilities and were less likely to switch jobs during times of economic uncertainty.
"Even though the economy has obviously slowed down, people are clearly still finding it tough because there still isn't enough supply of skilled labour in those particular areas," he said.
The lack of skilled staff had resulted in 66.7 per cent of employees working longer hours and 22.6 per cent of businesses to turn down work.