Talent crisis | Debate rumbles on over best solution to worker shortages

Debate rumbles on over best solution to worker shortages

The UK is fast approaching the third anniversary of leaving the EU, followed closely by the anniversary (if you can call it that) of the outbreak of Coronavirus – two historic events which occurred within weeks of one another and left a profound effect on the British economy to this day.

One of the many issues that still persists is the talent crisis, with many sectors massively struggling to fill the number of available roles. And it’s a problem that is only getting worse, according to the most recent statistics - the UK unemployment rate rose slightly to 3.6% in the three months to September, up from 3.5% in August, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

And let’s not forget, Christmas is now upon us, and UK-based searches for seasonal jobs are down by 27%, when compared to 2019 results, and 33% below 2018.

Many debates have been had about how to solve the worker shortages blighting the nation, and in the past few days, two opposing schools of thought have been hitting headlines (far from the first time, however).

For some, such as Next boss Lord Wolfson, a staunch advocate of Brexit, immigrant workers could be the best solution.

Speaking recently to the BBC, Wolfson stated that the UK's current immigration policy is “crippling economic growth”.

"We have got people queuing up to come to this country to pick crops that are rotting in fields, to work in warehouses that otherwise wouldn't be operable, and we're not letting them in. And we have to take a different approach to economically productive migration," he said.

Discussing a plan for future free trade, he said that the government must decide if it wants to be an "open free trading nation", or whether it wanted to be "fortress Britain".

"I think in respect of immigration, it's definitely not the Brexit that I wanted, or indeed, many people who voted Brexit wanted," Wolfson added.

Wolfson believes in a market-based solution to the current talent crisis affecting healthcare, hospitality and logistics, among others. His suggestion to the government for businesses that require European workers is a tax of 10% on foreign workers’ salaries to ensure that only businesses that ‘really couldn’t find UK workers’ would utilise workers from the EU.

"It would automatically mean that businesses never brought someone into the company from outside if they could find someone in the UK," he said. "But if they genuinely can't, they'll pay the premium,” he said.

Tony Danker, director-general of the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) said in a speech at the recent CBI conference that the UK should enable "economic migration" in areas where skilled workers cannot be found.

He urged leaders to "be honest with people" over the country's "vast" labour shortages, adding "we don't have the people we need nor do we have the productivity".

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"First, we have lost hundreds of thousands of people to economic inactivity post Covid," he said. "And anyone who thinks they'll all be back any day now - with the NHS under the pressure it is - is kidding themselves.

"Secondly, we don't have enough Brits to go round for the vacancies that exist, and there's a skills mismatch in any case. And third, believing automation can step in to do the job in most cases is unrealistic."

However, immigration minister Robert Jenrick disagreed, telling Sky News that firms should be "looking to the British workforce" first.

He told Kay Burley: “...if I was a business manager, I would be looking to the British workforce in the first instance, seeing how I could get local people into my business, train them up, skill them to do the job."

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