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Accessing IT talent

In order to sustain and grow the UK’s technology sector we need a simple and affordable immigration system, as David Harold explains to New Electronics.

The shortage of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills in the UK is a real concern. You’ve no doubt heard that many times, and now over several years. But the timing is NOW to act on it. Why? If the UK is to maintain and grow these industries in the wake of Brexit and COVID-19, it must have reliable access to talent from overseas.

Research, by EDF Energy, forecasts that STEM jobs will grow at double the rate of other occupations, creating 142,000 jobs by 2023. While research by STEM Learning in 2018 highlighted a shortfall of 173,000 skilled workers in the UK, with 89% of STEM businesses struggling to recruit at a cost of £1.5 billion a year.

People have become more risk averse when it comes to taking jobs overseas and data analysed by the BBC last year concluded that UK jobs were attracting less interest from other European workers - we must make sure that the UK remains an attractive destination, so our immigration policies will be crucial.

At Imagination we have always struggled to find enough engineers in the UK, although we do prioritise the UK for searches, and therefore have had to look outside of the UK for talent. Historically, they have come eagerly but there is a worry that things are changing and that there will be significantly more hurdles to jump and barriers to cross, and that ultimately our tech industry will suffer.

What needs to happen to ensure we can access talent from abroad?

Recent changes to the immigration shortage lists are very much welcomed when it comes to expanding critical roles. At Imagination we’ve been able to hire for roles such as research and customer engineers more easily. However, it’s not enough and more needs to happen. Looking to the immediate future, three issues need to be addressed: the complexity of the immigration process, the costs of visas and the ability to switch visas.

Sourcing talent

When sourcing talent from outside the UK, it needs to be as easy and straight-forward as possible for the candidate. The effort, time, financial cost and emotional investment required by someone to relocate to the UK is huge – often starting in a new role in a new company is daunting enough but add to that the pressure of moving your family and being in a new country. Going through all the necessary red tape adds to this effort, even more so if doing visas for your family.

The more the process can be simplified with clearer guidance, the less risky the move will be perceived by the candidate.

The cost of visas needs to fall significantly, especially for families. While it is not surprising that there is a cost involved, the average family is looking at over £10,000 to relocate to the UK and in short, someone must pay it. Typically, the costs are absorbed by the candidate, the company or both. From a company perspective, it needs to both support the candidate and family but also protect its investment so clawback policies are commonplace.

The problem with large sums like this is that it feels like a debt or loan. And this is where we come back to effort and risk, and whether it is worth it to the candidate. For smaller companies that need to be more risk averse with such a large sum of money, this can be a really tough decision and often result in a prolonged struggle for talent that is not only financially costly but can also impact productivity, growth and culture.

We understand a need for the cost, but it needs to be significantly reduced with solutions for families put in place. For example, the government could lower the costs of visa extensions to candidates that are keen to stay in the UK following their initial visa duration or make children’s visas free to encourage families to relocate and commit to the UK long term.

Finally, we need to make it possible for people to switch visas from within the UK as currently this is not possible. The UK needs to open the sponsored visa process to all visas because it helps retain the talent UK tech companies have already invested in while encouraging their partners on dependant visas to take up higher skilled work and contribute into the UK economy.

Imagination is made up of people from over 40 different nationalities and we believe that gives us a competitive edge.

As a business we hope that UK can encourage more children and young adults into STEM and recognise the challenging and fulfilling careers, but we also need to continue to access talent from around the world.

That can only happen if we keep the immigration process simple and affordable.

· David Harold, Chief Marketing Officer, Imagination Technology

Neil Tyler

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