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More than half of large U.S. businesses that reduced their workforces in the last year plan to rebuild to pre-recession levels within two years according to a new study from consulting firm Accenture.

The Accenture High Performance Workforce Study found that 54 percent of large companies plan to rebuild while only 13 percent plan to reduce their workforces over the next year.  That’s because companies may be hurting for talent as the economy starts to expand.

“The outlook is improving,” said David Smith, managing director of the Accenture Talent & Organization Performance practice, in a statement. “But as companies grow their staff, it is more critical than ever that they understand their skills needs and approach the expansion of their workforces strategically.”

Accenture said the survey results confirmed that companies are shifting their focus away from cost control and returning to growth. U.S. companies focused primarily on cost control will decrease from 41 percent in mid-2009 to 18 percent in 2011, according to the study. U.S. companies focused primarily on investment in growth-oriented activities, such as hiring, will increase from 24 percent today to 37 percent within the next 12 months, according to Accenture.

But as often happens during expansion, businesses may lament the shortage of high-quality skills. Only 15 percent of U.S. executives surveyed described the overall skill level of their workforces as industry-leading.

“A lack of relevant skills may present a hurdle for companies as they position themselves for growth,” said Smith. “Companies need to rethink how they equip employees with the skills required to be competitive today. They must also consider new strategies for hiring and developing untapped talent currently available in the market.”

Executives identified sales and customer service as the most important employee groups. But executives reported significant skills shortages in these areas.

Accenture said that among those executives who rated sales or customer service as one of their organization’s most important workforces, only 23 percent reported that their sales forces perform at a high level and 34 percent said the same about their customer service workers.

“As they emerge from the recession, organizations can’t afford to have employees with outdated skills on their front lines,” said Smith. “There’s a big opportunity for companies to outperform their competitors by elevating the skill levels of their employees.”