• New occupations may be added to a list of protected professions. It may have just got easier to make overseas hires.
• What is the Shortage Occupation List? How it operates, and how it could affect your recruitment decisions – explained.
• Britain’s SMEs are the engine of the country’s economy. But what are the most widely held fears and doubts among owners of small businesses?
Architects and Web Designers among the ‘protected species’ of UK recruiting
An advisory body has requested that more professions be added to the priority list for processing migration requests.
With skills gaps opening up in several industries, a government advisory panel has called for changes to UK migration rules.
The Migration Advisory Committee has identified a set of professions which are under threat from falling candidate numbers. It has told the government to add these job titles to a list of priority cases for immigration. Failure to do so could result in a critical lack of talent within these core sectors.
The list of proposed additions to the scheme demonstrates that the UK skills gap is not limited to a single sector. Professions in short supply range from web designers to psychologists; architects to vets.
If approved, the affected roles would be added to the government’s Shortage Occupations List. It would mean that overseas workers in these professions would enjoy a fast track towards acquiring residency permits.
What is the Shortage Occupations List?
The Shortage Occupation List (SOL) covers industries where Britain aims to remain competitive, or where there is a social demand. It means that protected jobs cover a broad spectrum of industries: from paediatric doctors to video games designers.
Applicants to jobs covered by the list avoid the major headaches of Tier 2 visa application. Under current rules, highly skilled non-EEA candidates require such a visa to apply for a job in the UK. But the government limits the number of tier 2 visas issued each year to just 20,700. Additionally, the overseas applicant must be earning at least £30,000 in their first role. They will be expected to earn £35,800 within the first five years of UK residency.
But when a profession is added to SOL, the barriers for entry into Britain are lowered significantly.
Firstly, SOL occupations are given priority ahead of other applications, once the 20,700 visa limit is reached. Visa application fees are lowered for SOL occupations. The five year salary cap is waived. And there is no obligation for recruiters to advertise SOL vacancies to UK workers.
Criticism of the Shortage Occupation List
However, there are critics of the scheme. And some of these rules appear inconsistent with the stated aim of closing skills gaps.
The prime example of this is the removal of the need to advertise posts within the UK.
Under existing laws, all vacancies must be made available to UK jobs seekers before they are advertised to overseas candidates. Vacancies covered by the SOL, however, are not required to meet this obligation. This seems counter-intuitive to the main objective of filling difficult-to-fill vacancies – as it should not matter where the candidate originates.
Instead, it has led some critics to speculate that the system is being implemented to suppress wage growth, rather than to ease skills gaps. A web developer from abroad, for example, may possess all of the expertise of home-grown talent, but will settle for a lower salary in order to secure a working visa in the UK. Even though there may be web developers available to fill the position already in the UK, they will not see advertisements for the vacancy, as it is on the SOL list.
In these situations, the protected occupations status may be used to target and suppress wage growth within highly competitive sectors.
Secondly, the extent of the proposed expansion has concerned some. At present, barely one per cent (1%) of the UK jobs market is covered by SOL. Under the proposed changes, almost a tenth of all UK jobs (9 per cent) would be eligible for rules exemptions under SOL.
Skills gaps compounded by social uncertainties
The state of the UK talent market is, in itself, not unique. Across the world, recruiters are facing challenging conditions as they seek to make placements into vital roles.
• ALSO RELATED: see how global recruiters source key talent with eBoss.
Inevitably, though, the ongoing saga of Brexit negotiations is seen as an underlying cause of the proposals. With dwindling numbers of EU applicants, and the threat of protracted uncertainty, UK industries are keen to secure skills today. With many expecting competition for skills to escalate in the year ahead, the broader horizons offered by the SOL may help UK businesses take an advantage.
And for recruiters, too, it provides a wider range of opportunities to extend our talent pools. With the removal on restrictions, recruiting agencies that look out to the wider world when they source their talent may find an advantage under the proposed changes.
What are the big challenges for Britain’s SMEs?
Economic uncertainties, and the digital transformation of work among top concerns for small business leaders.
Small and medium-sized firms are often called the engine of the UK economy. They account for more than 99 per cent of the country’s private sector and employ 16.3 million people. In terms of productivity, SMEs make up 52 per cent of all private sector turnover.
However, smaller firms rarely get to choose their own fortunes. That old metaphor of the economy being a rising tide that lifts all vessels is highly applicable in this sense.
With limited resources, SMEs are often left to weather the storms around them rather than set their own path forwards. It is therefore unsurprising that economic uncertainty has been listed as the top challenge for smaller business owners in a recent survey of UK enterprise.
The industry study was carried out by recruitment specialists Robert Half UK. It seeks to identify the biggest challenges facing SMEs in the next two years. While doubts about an economic downturn remain the highest consideration, this perennial fear is challenged by more contemporary issues.
Of the business leaders surveyed, 45 per cent (45%) cited the economy as their greatest obstacle. But almost the same number (41%) listed digital readiness as their most pressing concern. 37 per cent of businesses also saw an increase in competition as one of the top worries of the day.
Long-term doubts for a changing world
Of course, the fear of a sudden change in the economy will always be present for small business owners. The fascinating data point from this most recent study is the extent to which digitalisation is troubling entrepreneurs.
In the past we have seen both the positive impact of digitisation and the risks of recruitment automation. However, what is clear from the survey data is that the biggest concern is being left behind. There is a genuine sense that digital transformations lead to greater competitiveness. It is no surprise that these were the second and third highest priorities for SMEs. One could even argue that they are linked.
However, the Robert Half data found that SMEs often struggle to implement necessary efficiency changes. Two fifths (41 per cent) of business leaders found their leadership team resistant to change.
One of the key advantages of digitisation at work is often said to be that automation frees time for humans to be humans. As AI deals with the administrative aspects of key roles, soft skills and communications become core assets among the existing workforce. It may be troubling to read, then, that 40 per cent of managers say their team lacks soft skills. Almost a third (30 per cent) reported poor communication within their organisation.
Managing the cultural shift of digitisation
It is often assumed that the key barrier to initiating a digital transformation of the workplace is purely financial. Companies have finite resources and may, perhaps, find it hard to justify the tech investment. This latest survey throws doubt on those assumptions, however, and suggests that the real block to progress is a cultural one. Teams can be resistant to change. And, when communications and soft skills are lacking, even if a company does undergo digitisation, there may be no great advantages realised from it.
It is evident that UK industry is at a turning point. The digitisation of work has begun. Enterprises which are able to effectively manage the cultural shift will be those that see long-term gains in the future.