Is the answer to the UK’s skills gap widening migration from overseas?
The changing political landscape in the UK, and the overwhelming uncertainty in the wake of impending Brexit, is undoubtedly having a significant impact upon recruitment; the messages are nothing, but mixed.
In these uncertain times, we are currently facing a major talent shortage and the combination of increased employability and the instability of EU settlement means that the pool of attractive candidates is smaller than ever before. Talent shortages are the top emerging risk for organisations, exceeding previous concerns over privacy regulation and cloud computing.
It is an accepted fact that all UK employers find it extremely difficult to fill vacancies with suitable staff from within the UK, whether they be highly or low-skilled employees. A recent survey of 1,500 companies found that a major issue which employers face is recruitment and retention.
The UK has the fourth highest talent mismatch between skills required and available. Only Ireland, Spain and Portugal have higher mismatches.
Therefore, in the wake of this, is bringing skills from abroad a solution?
This may be politically insensitive and pose questions if this puts British workers at a disadvantage with jobs going to migrants.
Chris Lawton, senior research fellow in economics at the Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University, points to a Home Office and Department for Business, Innovation & Skills joint report on migration which found little evidence to suggest migration was negatively impacting British workers.
“The figures just don’t back up the perception some have that migration damages British workers in some way,” he says.
“Although you can never underestimate the social challenges of large changes in local population, you have to bear in mind that, economically speaking, the country has never employed more people; unemployment is at a pre-recession level of around 5pc at the same time as the latest Office for National Statistics figures show net migration is at a record high. So, employment’s high, vacancies are high, and unemployment is low, despite record migration.”
It goes without any shadow of doubt that the skills gap is a big issue for employers, and a there is a clear disconnect between what the data shows and the migration policies pursued by the Government.
There is a general public misconception that people can just walk in and take British jobs and then stick around for as long as they want, however it is million miles away from reality. Companies have to prove they have a bona fide requirement by advertising a position for 28 days and they can then apply to bring someone in from outside the EU.
As Artificial Intelligence, Automation and Blockchain have become mainstream, major professions have undertaken a digital transformation which has seen new roles emerge, new practices become commonplace and new skills required.
India is producing just over 500,000 engineers a year and China is doubling their numbers i.e. one million a year. To remain a competitive economy, we just cannot choose to ignore these statistics and it makes a lot of sense to get talented young people to the UK from these countries.
Overseas students have been choosing to study in the US and Canada where they are more likely to be allowed to look for a job once they have finished their studies.
For argument sake, even if UK schools took the requisite steps of producing suitably qualified young people today, the holy grail of more IT experts, manufacturing experts, scientists and doctors would still be more than a decade away.
The latest Migration Advisory Committee’s report has been hugely embraced by employers and the UK Government’s recent attempts to widen the shortage occupation list, introducing fast-track global talent visa, fast-track NHS visa, discontinuing the need to carry out a resident labour market test when recruiting Tier 2 migrants, and re-introducing the post study visa are being seen as welcome changes. These positive steps will no doubt help boost the UK economy and keep it competitive.
Therefore, for the foreseeable future, the choice is unfilled vacancies or migration.
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