It’s clear that with freedom of movement ending in a handful of weeks, tech firms in the UK fear an immediate shortage of talent and lack of access to talent pools and technical expertise as a result. For many years the sector has benefited from accessing talent by tapping into the flexible EEA labour market and importing talent from further afield when needed.
Last year the UK tech sector represented 7.7% of the UK economy, created 800,000 jobs and contributed £149 billion to the UK economy. This equates to a growth rate six times faster than any other sector. To drive this growth the sector relies on the ability to complement domestic talent with international talent from across the globe. 13% of the UK’s digital tech workforce is international - a higher rate than in other sectors.
This skills gap is not unique to the UK, with tech talent remaining in high demand across international competitive markets. Tech workers are some of the most mobile and in-demand professionals in the world. If the UK wants to be a global hub for tech then it needs to be open and attractive to the best tech talent and continue to nurture strong links with Europe.
Skilled Worker Migration Route
For RWA the points based system, specifically the 70 points threshold is rarely, in itself, ever likely to be a factor. In its clarity the skilled worker points based migration route (vis-à-vis eligibility) is a good thing. Further, the Graduate route is welcome, as is the Global Talent route; both tally with our core business and our clients’ interests, ie placing a premium on excellence.
Set against these positives is the ongoing uncertainty of the shape of any UK/EU trading agreement; simultaneously the lack of ‘flesh on the bones’ on UK/non-EU trading deals: how much of a game changer - carrying as it does the prize of a potentially huge global talent pool - will this prove to be? And, just as crucially, by when? How should tech companies plan in the short and medium term when the availability of eligible talent will assuredly ebb and flow?
If the UK is to be home to the world-leading tech companies, the ability to attract international talent will remain vital. Yet there remain significant obstacles. For many UK tech firms their greatest worry is the long visa process: it still takes around 20 weeks to get one. At a time when digital skills are in extreme short supply across Europe, this time period could motivate many EU nationals to opt for alternative countries. A Spanish engineer may opt for an immediate job in France or Germany, for instance, to avoid the delays by the British visa process system.
Cost to UK Employers
Further, what is certain is that next year the costs for UK-based firms taking on talent from abroad will escalate. Compared to Australia, France, Germany and Canada, Britain’s visa fees are significantly higher: it can cost a company six times as much to get an overseas worker a UK visa as it would to get one for someone relocating to their EU offices, and this is before we consider dependants and other associated costs.
Another challenge is keeping the existing tech-savvy and high-skilled labour force from moving to other EU countries in the UK. According to a KPMG survey, around half of the EU citizens already working in the UK’s information technology, engineering and manufacturing sectors are expected to leave the UK or were considering doing so.
This trend has been the reality since the Brexit vote. UK tech companies experienced a reduction in applications from candidates outside of the UK after the Brexit referendum vote; searches for technology jobs in the UK declined last year - which is particularly striking when you compare it with tech talents’ interest in jobs in the rest of Europe. Over the same period, searches for technology jobs in Belgium increased by 76%, 45% in Portugal and 42% in Sweden. When combined with the shortage of tech talent and the prospect of being cut off from Europe’s talent pool due to Brexit, this decrease in searches could make it even harder for British companies to recruit tech professionals.
International recruitment up to now has acted as a comfort blanket for many businesses. The new landscape will now see a noticeable shift in focus, that of upskilling the domestic workforce. Retraining and upskilling sits at the heart of driving productivity and enabling job growth. With 82% of job vacancies requiring digital skills, retraining can be a first step in helping people to build up the skills employers need during time spent at home.
Richard Wheeler Associates
RWA is powerfully equipped to work alongside our clients in charting a path through these changing times. Our recruitment process involves quickly identifying the strongest candidates; carrying out the time consuming screening and eligibility checks; interviewing the strongest of these; and shortlisting those who we feel 100% fit the bill.