A shortage of technology experts in the UK is holding back many businesses, a major industry body has warned.

In a survey of 500 UK businesses, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) warned that 52 percent of companies feared that during the next four years it would be difficult to recruit appropriately qualified engineers and technology staff.

Nearly half of the businesses surveyed had recruited abroad in the last year in order to address specific skill shortages.

Paul Jackson, director professional operations at the IET, said: "Across the board, companies rely on technology people so they have had to take action. Without [technology staff] they find they are being held back. And, with small to large companies suffering from this problem, there is a big impact on the economy."

The energy sector is one that faces particularly difficult challenges in its drive to recruit IT staff, according to the survey. Bob Taylor, UK board member at e.on, said his firm was "taking steps" to tackle the skills shortage by setting up a scheme with Aston University and Walsall College to create a new specialist degree. But the firm was also recruiting engineers from its main German offices that had been trained through apprenticeships there.

In spite of the large number of businesses recruiting abroad, a number are investing to help find local talent in the longer term. Jackson explained: "Two thirds are putting their money where their mouth is, and investing in further training." He stated that many companies were looking for higher level technology staff, with "relatively few looking to recruit school leavers."

The industry appears very split on whether enough is being done to solve the problem. Some surveys have indicated that in the past many businesses have accepted recruiting underskilled IT staff, whereas it has also become apparent that a number of large businesses are testing potential candidates as summer trainees.

The IET expressed anxiety that the education system might not be succeeding in inspiring enough pupils, particularly women, to work in technology. Jackson said: "We see concerns about what resources are in schools to teach and excite pupils about technology. There is also an alarmingly low number of women coming through in the industry." He added that the UK is also in desperate need to increase its pool of engineers and technicians.

The IET itself works to tackle the UK's skill shortages by lobbying government over technology issues, publishing a teenage lifestyle magazine with a pro-technology message, running events for school pupils, and representing the technology industry. Its website advertises courses and conferences for business people.