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Gary Flood

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Mind the British skills gap


British jobs for British workers, we were told last week. Well, yes… if they’re the most competitive in the market and the most qualified to do the job.


What are we banging on about? Works and Pension Secretary Ian Duncan Smith lambasted the previous government’s job creation record last week, arguing that too many 2000-2010 jobs were created and filled by immigrants. The Quiet Man also provoked a British public already egged on by Murray Mania to the edge of reason by his suggestion that “a significant proportion of those coming into the UK purporting to be high-skilled workers have actually been doing low-skilled jobs once in the UK?”… in other words, these foreign Johnnies told our Man in Havana (equivalent) that they were nuclear scientists, but soon as they got over here they undercut the trusting proles in their new locales by nicking their lucrative fruit-picking jobs. Not cricket!

Irony aside, we all of us want to see the sapping disease of unemployment tackled and probably many of you will know a young person struggling to get one of the few graduate vacancies out there, you know this ailment, alas, is liable to strike even the best and brightest from our (world class) universities.

But Little Englander attitudes and calling for the borders to be shut just isn’t good enough for a globalised, dynamic, First World economy like ours.

What is appropriate is to look at the issue of skills and training. In the public sector ICT camp, we face tough times but a dearth of new entrants, too. Why? Yes, there are fewer jobs (though a look at our PublicTechnology.Net jobs bulletin board will still show some excellent opportunities abound out there, and not all of them are senior only).

But there are also not as many socially and technically literate, motivated, business-aware all-rounders coming through to apply for these – and other – roles.

We genuinely worry that IDS has got it wrong here and that this sort of thing encourages blinkered thinking.

The brutal truth is that if a Birmingham thinks it needs talent to meet its objectives, it’s going to look to a Bangalore if it feels that’s the best place to source high-quality resources. As it just did, remember.

Let’s have our British youngsters and nervous, newly-minted graduate achievers get jobs, and good ones too. 100% yes. But let’s make sure they are equipped to be organ grinders, not the dancing monkeys, and that’s down to a whole new perspective on training and skill development, both in school and in first jobs too, frankly.

We’re reminded, ultimately, by Duncan Smith’s rhetoric of that lovely but in Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines when that bastion of Edwardian glory James Robertson Justice turns to one of his colleagues after an impertinent rejoinder from a non-native Britisher to observe, “That’s the problem with these damn international events. They attract too many damn foreigners.”

Quite, Mr Duncan Smith. Quite.

Gary Flood is a journalist and editor of our sister site


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