Because training workers to plug the UK skills gap is a lengthy task, the abrupt introduction of a “radical” immigration cap would generate major skills problems for employers and lead to more offshoring.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) issued the stark warning after the Office of National Statistics’ Migration Statistics Quarterly Report revealed an unexpected 20% rise in net migration to the UK. Some 190,000 people arrived last year, up from 163,000 in 2008, mainly due a 35% increase in overseas students and a 60% drop in the number of Britons leaving the country to live abroad.
At the same time, however, the actual number of overseas nationals coming to work in the UK continued to fall. The number awarded work-related visas decreased by 14% last year to 161,000.
In light of the drop, the CIPD argued that the abrupt introduction of a cap on skilled migration from outside the European Union (EU) would be damaging to employers looking to hire personnel in areas where there are skills shortages such as engineering.
While the current points-based system should continue, there also needed to be an increased focus on developing UK skills where gaps existed in order to cut net immigration over the long-term.
Gerwyn Davies, the CIPD’s public policy advisor, said: “The reality is that employers would rather not hire labour from outside of the EU because it is costly and time-consuming, but many are forced to because of the skills shortages that still exist in the UK.”
Organisations already spent an average of £2,000 per year on training each staff member in a bid to address the shortage, while the Migration Advisory Committee was able to withdraw certain jobs from the shortage occupation list if it felt employers were not doing enough in training terms –as it had already done in the care sector.
“The idea, therefore, that employers are sitting on their hands is simply not true. The reality for employers is that training workers to plug the UK skills gap is a lengthy task. The abrupt introduction of a radical cap would, therefore, leave many employers with a bigger skills problem and tempt those with global operations to offshore jobs, where they can find the skills,” Davies said.