Affected by the skills shortage? Speak now!

Recently, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) launched another of its perennial calls for evidence.  We like to encourage our clients and readers to participate in these as one of the only ways to influence Government policy on non-EEA workers, and this most recent review of current policies is particularly relevant for many of the companies we assist.

The Background

As part of its pledge to reduce net migration, the current UK Government has constantly reviewed and adjusted the routes through which skilled migrants can take up employment in the UK.  Earlier this year, the MAC carried out a review of the Tier 2 Codes of Practice and the list of occupations which qualify for Tier 2 of the Points Based System. 

This time, the questions are different but the main themes remain the same.  Essentially, the Government wants to know which roles companies feel should be on the list of shortage occupations and which can be removed.

The closing date for evidence to be received by the MAC is the 30th November 2012, after which the MAC will review all the evidence collated and present its findings and proposals to the Government.

What does MAC want to know?

The document released by MAC asks for consideration of four questions.  We aren’t going to spend time looking at two of these in this blog, which concern roles currently on the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) not skilled to NQF level 6, and whether certain creative occupations should be retained within Tier 2.

Instead, we wish to focus on the first two questions, which are of direct relevance for many of our clients:

“1)  In which occupations or job titles skilled to at least NQF level 6 is there a shortage of labour that it would be sensible to fill using labour from outside the EEA and which therefore merit inclusion on the Shortage Occupation List (SOL)?

2) The Government has indicated that it wishes to remove from the SOL all occupations that have been on it for more than a given period, in principle two years, regardless of shortages affecting the sectors concerned. This reflects the fact that inclusion on the SOL is intended to provide temporary relief while measures are taken to mitigate the shortages. The MAC is asked to advise on:

i) A standard period after which removal from the SOL should become automatic and whether exceptions should be permitted.

ii) Whether a transitional period should be accorded to those occupations currently on the SOL and which have exceeded the advised standard period.”

So what do we think at first glance?  Well, it isn’t all bad but it isn’t all good news either…

Background

We act for a large number of oil and gas companies and have received feedback to the effect that it is becoming increasingly challenging to recruit necessary skilled workers. 

Last year the Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organization (UK) (OPITO) and the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB) produced a survey which found that 81% of respondents expected to grow their business over the next 5 years, and 44% forecast significant growth in 2011, despite global economic challenges. 

However, the survey also revealed that ‘the demand for appropriately skilled or experience staff continues to outstrip supply,’ with skills shortages the number one challenge which impacted companies’ ability to deliver on project opportunities.  Inter-company competition for workers was accordingly found to be on the rise, as well as competition for staff from companies in other energy sectors such as wind and nuclear power.

Vacancies for graduate and chartered engineers and managers are especially difficult roles to fill, and there is often no alternative but to recruit from abroad.

It is not only oil and gas companies, however, who have a need for recruiting staff from abroad.  Data from The Migration Observatory identifies other sectors which employ high numbers of foreign workers, including food and hospitality, healthcare, information and communication technology, and financial services.  Evidently, there are certain industries where it is vital to have access to a foreign workforce to ensure that staffing requirements are met.

So, what do you think about the MAC’s questions?

The Good

Our clients will be pleased to read that the Government is asking for a list of any occupations skilled to NQF Level 6 which are not currently on the SOL, and should be.

This is encouraging for employers who may well have identified certain roles they are struggling to fill due to a shortage of applicants from the resident UK labour market.  If this is the case, employers should inform us or respond to the MAC directly, to ensure their staffing needs are heard and action is taken. 

The Bad

The second question which the MAC has been asked to consider is, in contrast, rather concerning.  We are informed that the Government intends to remove from the SOL all occupations which have been on it for two years, regardless of ongoing shortages affecting the sectors concerned.

Now, of course the SOL is reviewed and amended on a cyclical basis, because as foreign nationals enter the UK and take up shortage roles, as well as graduates from UK universities who complete their courses, there is no longer a need for certain occupations to remain on the list.

But what about those occupations where there is a continual labour shortage?  Engineering roles, for example, have been permanently on the list and the OPITO and ECITB survey demonstrates that staffing deficiencies in this area are unlikely to change.

In order to ensure that these roles are allowed to stay on the list, we urge employers to consider why exceptions to the proposed rules should be allowed.

Companies should ask themselves why they need to employ foreign nationals for particular occupations.  Is it due to a lack of UK graduates with the relevant qualifications?  Do the graduates who have the right qualifications lack necessary experience?  Could this be addressed through additional training and if not, why not?  How would the proposed Government changes affect your business?

It is important to provide solid examples and statistics where possible, rather than a general statement that you do not approve of the Government’s new proposal.

Only this way, through being pro-active and answering this call for evidence, can we hope to secure the outcome you need.

To speak to one of our team and make your views known, write to us at enquiries@newlandchase.com.

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