Despite high levels of unemployment, U.S. business leaders say one of the biggest risks they’re facing is a talent and skills shortage, according to the 2011 Lloyd’s Risk Index.

Talent and skills shortages shot up to the number two risk facing businesses, up from the 22nd place in the 2009 index. The survey polled 500 C-suite and board level executives in North America, Europe, Asia and elsewhere to assess corporate risk priorities and attitudes around the world.

Forty-five percent of respondents in North America rated talent as a high or very high priority over the next year.

Boosting talent retention was named in the survey as one of the most effective risk management actions taken by management over the last three years, highlighting just how keen businesses are to retain the staff they have.

The risk perceptions of business leaders are in sharp contrast to those raised in the inaugural survey in 2009, in which the top three global risks were related to the liquidity crisis — cost and availability of credit, currency fluctuations and insolvency.

“These findings show that talent is now firmly part of the risk lexicon — high levels of unemployment have boosted the quantity of candidates, but employers are still wrestling with the quality,” says Kevin Kelly, CEO of Heidrick & Struggles, a consulting firm.

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