Brexit has brought about a host of employment concerns and has led businesses in multiple sectors to question the impact on overseas workers and access to international talent for the UK. The debate concerning international workers in the UK is a long established one, with some arguing that foreign staff minimise national workers’ opportunities and others suggesting that international skill sets are more readily available and accessible to a wide range of industries. Whether we source talent at home or from overseas, in order for tech and a host of other sectors to boom, it’s clear that as a country, we must remain open to continual evolution and progression.
With another general election looming, the Conservative party is proposing to double the Immigration Skills Charge from £1,000 to £2,000 per year for every non-EU worker employed in the UK. The government’s motive for this is to attempt to encourage business owners to work harder to train employees from the UK and invest in developing their skills, rather than sourcing talent from other countries. Speaking about the employment of international talent, Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, argued via the Financial Times that:
“What is not fair is if you bring in these workers from overseas but then you don’t train up our own people and give them the skills such that they can do some of these higher-paid jobs”. The Conservatives, he said, were sending a message to businesses that everyone had a “social responsibility”.
This ‘social responsibility’ has also been widely considered by the Labour Party who, through London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, also criticised the immigration policies. Khan referred to the plans as “totally unworkable”, though the Labour Party have not indicated that they would repeal the Immigration Skills Charge of £1,000 in their election manifesto. This means that irrespective of who wins on the 8th June, businesses will be subject to an Immigration Skills Charge of some level.
How Significant is the Skills Gap?
Here at Pivigo, we are active supporters of the Mayor of London’s #londonisopen diversity campaign. We agree that the Immigration Skills Charge inhibits the pace and progression of our fast-moving sector and that it adds obstacles to what should be a geographically and culturally open industry. Google, one of the world’s most recognised and successful brands, hires skilled workers from all over the world, accessing talent pools from numerous countries and has recently invested in a huge office space in London’s Kings Cross. Cultural diversity is one of the reasons that London has become the tech hub, startup hub and unicorn hub of Europe and we should be proud and encouraging of this. We believe that openness and fluidity of international talent allows the industry to boom, share ideas to increase and for each country to benefit from diverse and mammoth potential, both financially and practically.
There is a skills gap in the UK tech industry and this means that many firms are continuing to seek talent from international pools. A recent City.A.M report highlights that “One in four firms are looking overseas for IT talent, according to a survey of more than 1,000 managers done by recruiter Experis”. This skills gap is a significant costly shortcoming for the country and, according to the report, “is costing the UK economy £10bn a year, as firms cannot access the skills they need. In September 2015, there were 170,000 more unfilled positions compared to the 2013-2014 average.” In the quest to minimise this cost and meet the demand in this field, there are cries for investment into UK nationals, as opposed to sourcing skills from international markets. However, by closing the entry of international talent to UK firms, we further enlarge the skills gap in this country and we are not able to meet the demand through homegrown talent. It is therefore vital that we recognise the need for both international and domestic enhancement of talent pools and as an industry, we source workers from both areas.
In Data Science, the skills gap is more significant and is on a global level. Thanks to acquisitions such as the one with Google with Kaggle, the international talent pools are quickly snapped up. In fact, sourcing talent from overseas is one of the most significant considerations for the tech world and is far more putative towards startups and SME’s than it is to giants like Google and Facebook, both from a fiscal point of view and from a resource perspective:
“The vast majority of demand for Tier 2 skilled worker visas comes from the UK’s most digitally-intensive sectors. The UK’s start-ups and SMEs are crying out for more talent – from cyber security specialists, to big data analysts, to software developers – and are already facing uncertainty on securing talent from the EU. These are roles already recognised as a national shortage by the Government’s own independent Migration Advisory Committee. The UK needs to continue to welcome growth-generating talent from around the world. Unfortunately today’s announcement will be seen as additional barrier to high-skilled recruitment, and sends a worrying signal at a time of uncertainty”. – Antony Walker, Deputy CEO of techUK.
CEO of Pivigo, Kim Nilsson, is keen to share her thoughts and ambitions in this area. Speaking of her frustration with the government’s proposed changes and the need to recognise the shortfalls and potentials of talent in the digital arena, Kim says:
“I am surprised and disappointed to see a policy in the Conservative manifesto that so clearly stands in the face of encouraging diversity in the workplace, and the important task of bringing vital talent into UK businesses. Increasing curbs on the hiring of skilled immigrant workers in the section entitled “the skills we need” is a complete contradiction in terms.
There is a digital skills shortage in the UK now, and there is international talent at our disposal to contribute to British innovation and economy. Among the business community, there were already concerns on Brexit’s potential to impact not just access to talent, but the movement of entrepreneurial individuals that see London as a hotbed for investment, creativity and collaboration. It is incredible that the governing party would want to compound this issue with an immigration policy that aims to do just that.
“Beyond the technical skills the UK will be missing out on, I am also of the strong belief that it is in the interest of businesses and the economy to build diverse teams that represent multiple nationalities, cultures and genders. Diversity is an essential part of challenging the status quo and creating unique and exciting ideas that have the ability to penetrate national borders and stand up on the world stage.”
It is imperative that the UK does not compromise its position as a world leading nation in the tech and digital field. We should be proud of our ability to evolve and progress whilst maintaining a commitment to connecting with the greatest talents in data science, no matter where they are geographically. It is true that in order to strengthen our position as a leading force in this area, we must continue to develop the understanding and skills of data scientists at home, but never should we close ourselves to the offerings of international abilities.