CBI urges UK immigration and training rethink due to skills gap

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Comments by Sanwar Ali:

The Brexit transitional period ends in a little over a six months time.  From 1 January 2021 it is quite likely that for newly arriving EU citizens free movement will end.  This will no doubt make skills shortages worse in the UK.  UK visa fees and related costs are enormous and make it prohibitively expensive for many employers to bring in overseas workers using the Tier 2 Sponsor Licence and Tier 2 visa scheme.  Currently seems unlikely that there will be a suitable UK visa system in place by the beginning of 2021.

In the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has warned that the UK’s workforce will require substantial reskilling. In its own report – ‘Building a World-Class Innovation and Digital Economy’ – the industry body said: “The UK is faced with major talent gaps, which will affect business innovation.”

The news come amid a recent Workpermit.com report highlighting how the UK’s tech sector is seemingly trying to lure professionals to the UK on the global talent visa who have been blocked from US entry by President Trump’s recent work visa ban.

Specialist digital skills

The CBI’s report is anticipating a need for employees to acquire essential digital skills in order to continue using a number of technologies that have been adopted in order to work from home amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A number of organisations will also need employees with advanced or specialist digital skills, according to the CBI’s report. This will include top-level professionals in software engineering and artificial intelligence, among others, which will help to facilitate the development of new, tech-enabled products and services.

The CBI predicts that changing working conditions will require more than one million workers to upskill as their job role evolves. Meanwhile, a further five million will reportedly need to retrain in order to adapt to job changes.

Strong digital pipeline

The CBI is now urging the government to create ‘a strong digital pipeline’ that will require a rethink of training programmes and the UK visa and immigration system. The CBI said: “Changes to training and immigration policy will help the UK tackle issues such as radical job changes, rising unemployment levels and inter-generational fairness.”

The CBI’s report estimates that 9 out of every 10 workers will need some type of reskilling by 2030 to make sure that the UK workforce is fully equipped for the tech-enabled work environment and can benefit from increased job satisfaction and higher salaries.

Approximately 11.7 million people in the UK lack basic digital skills. The CBI insists that a ‘steep change’ is needed in adult learning and upskilling.

Immigration policy fuels skills shortages

The CBI also attributed the UK’s distinct lack of digital skills to UK immigration policy. “Brexit has already deterred people from coming to the UK to work,” said the CBI report.

“Even though immigration rules have yet to change, the UK’s digital and innovation economy has already found it harder to attract the people and skills from overseas that it needs to thrive since the result of the EU referendum in 2016. Continued rhetoric from the government about reducing numbers has also made the UK a less attractive destination,” the report states.

UK immigration changes

While the CBI acknowledged that the Home Office has eased some of the barriers for non-UK professionals to secure a UK visa, the industry body said the new immigration system – set to come into effect on 1 January 2021 - must work for all business types, including sole traders and freelancers.

Commenting on the immigration system in its report, the CBI said: “The new immigration system must be accessible and affordable to businesses of all sizes on day one. Otherwise, even if digital roles are permitted under the new system, employers will be unable to practically hire the people and skills from overseas that they need to grow.”

The CBI is calling on the government to ensure that non-UK workers from around Europe and the world, who contribute to digital and innovation developments in the UK on a self-employed or freelance basis, can continue to operate.

Meanwhile, the industry body has also urged the Department for Education and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to team up and create jobs and skills hubs that utilise the expertise of colleges, universities, unions, businesses and local digital skills partnerships.

The CBI’s report said: “These hubs should have two roles – providing rapid matching of people to new job opportunities, and sourcing high-quality training in areas of future demand in the local labour market.”

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