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Tackling the Skills Shortage


Column by Paul Carbert which featured in the Journal

Last week the Migration Advisory Committee published a review of the Shortage Occupation List, and recommended the inclusion of a number of additional jobs, including physics teachers, paramedics and occupational therapists. Job titles that feature on the list are exempt from some of the requirements that businesses must meet to hire staff from outside the EU, essentially making it easier to recruit for these roles when there is a shortage of skills in the UK.

A group of Chamber members, including Ubisoft and Nissan, met with the Migration Advisory Committee in February 2019 as part of the review process. Members pressed the need to recognise language skills in the visa system, as there is a real shortage of skilled workers who are fluent in at least one European language, particularly among exporters and companies with a customer service function based in the North East.

Our members tell us that they do want to “grow their own” and provide opportunities to young people, but also need to recruit workers with several years’ experience when they have an urgent need to replace key staff or grow their capacity. In some sectors that rely on new technology, employers need to recruit staff with the right skills to train up apprentices or graduates joining the workforce – and these skills are in such demand that it is necessary to look beyond our borders.

It is important to remember that migration policy is not solely designed around addressing skills shortages, and the Home Office has a number of different policy objectives to meet. Recruiting skilled workers from overseas is a necessity for some businesses because the skills and training system in the UK is not joined up.

A good example of this is the Immigration Skills Charge. When it was introduced in April 2017, the Home Office initially said that there would be a consultation on how the money raised by the Charge would be spent, but this was quietly scrapped. The Immigration White Paper published in December 2018 included the admission that income from the Charge is used to maintain the existing skills budget – it is not additional funding.

The Government plans to extend the Immigration Skills Charge to cover EU workers when the UK has left the EU. This will add to the costs for growing businesses, but fail to address the causes of skills shortages. They should use the funds to target training in skills that are in shortage, or scrap the Charge.