Brexit talent troubles

Questions over the UK's access to foreign talent must be resolved soon, says George Windsor, senior policy researcher (creative and digital economy) for the innovation foundation Nesta.
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THE DECISION to leave the EU has tipped the UK into a state of talent uncertainty.

Companies in the creative industries are among those with the greatest need to recruit from overseas. There simply aren’t the numbers with the necessary skills among the native workforce.

It will be some time yet before we fully understand the effect of Brexit on firms’ ability to take on talent from EU nations. But if freedom of movement is severely curbed, it will become even more crucial that British companies can recruit skilled workers from outside Europe.

Sub-sectors like IT, software and computer services are already particularly reliant on non-European nationals, at 8.4% of the workforce, as Nesta’s analysis of last year’s Annual Population Survey identified. That’s double the average. So companies need to know where they stand.

Left unresolved, this uncertainty could be damaging for businesses who may be minded to hold off on making critical skills investment or recruitment decisions.

George Windsor [Image: Nesta]

The knock-on implications for employment and growth are clear.

Initiatives to help businesses develop the skills of native employees – such as the £40m announced in the Budget for lifelong learning pilots – are welcome. But, in reality, many small firms require “oven-ready” workers to add value from their first day on the job, leaving them reliant on overseas talent.

As it stands, high-skill, high-growth sectors like the creative industries will suffer disproportionately from limits on migration.

In suggesting Britain would need a “bespoke” visa system after leaving the EU, the previous Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill proposed that European migrants could face different rules according to which sector of the economy they work in.

Such an approach would require solid evidence of a sector’s skills dynamics.

Official data does not currently enable granular analysis of the creative sub-sectors like video games or visual effects, where qualitative evidence suggests a high proportion of jobs are filled by foreign workers.

Big data will be crucial to identifying where there are mismatches between skills supply and demand. Official statistics from the Annual Population Survey and Employer Skills Survey, web data like online job advertisements and industry surveys can all play a part.

Each of these sources has limitations, however, and should be used as layers to build a complete picture of the sector’s skills needs.

One thing is certain: it is imperative for industry and government to work together to make this picture as accurate as possible.

This article has been adapted from the original which is available to read on the Nesta website

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