Skills shortages vs foreign workers quotas – is this the ‘Brave New (Post-Brexit) World’?

UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd recently created something of a storm when she suggested at the Conservative Party Conference that companies could be subject to checks on the number of foreign staff that they employ.

Oct 14, 2016

As the row intensified, Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development in the UK, responded by saying, “The Home Secretary’s suggestion that businesses should reveal how many foreign workers they employ is divisive and risks demonising companies with migrants in their workforce. At a time of increasing tension and uncertainty around migrant labour, the Government needs to be sending positive messages about the contribution that migrant workers make to the UK economy, and encouraging a more balanced debate with businesses about their future workforces.

“Contrary to the myth that employers recruit migrant workers to avoid training UK staff, our research shows that organisations that employ migrant workers are also more likely to invest in training and development for their workforce.

“Greater transparency in workforce makeup can be a good thing, and the CIPD has long encouraged businesses to have open and honest assessments about their own diversity, in order to correctly identify talent gaps and areas for improvement. However, a Government-mandated list designed to name and shame organisations is entirely inappropriate and sends the wrong message about tackling a complex issue of skills shortages across the workforce.

“In the wake of Brexit, businesses need to think more strategically, particularly as retaining staff becomes ever more important, but they need a long term strategy from Government that seeks to set out a coherent plan to tackle the longstanding issues around productivity and skills in our workforce, rather than a series of individual targets designed to grab headlines. It is crucial Government works with employers on any changes to immigration or skills policy to ensure the UK remains open for business and ensure organisations can continue to access the skills they need to grow.”

As the row intensified, Steve Hilton, the former director of strategy for David Cameron, said, "Theresa May needs to send a really clear signal to the world that this idea – that has been noticed around the world of forcing companies to name and shame foreign workers – was a mistake.”

The Home Secretary appeared to confirm that the idea was still being considered when she later told the BBC that the measure was "one of the tools" the Government planned to use. But Education Secretary Justine Greening attempted to shift the emphasis onto skills shortages when she told ITV's Peston on Sunday programme, "[It] is really about collecting the right evidence we will need if we're going to respond to skills shortages of employers. This is not data that will be published. There will be absolutely no naming and shaming."

The public outcry and negative reception for the idea within the Conservative Party makes it unlikely that such a draconian measure will be implemented, but it has highlighted the serious skills shortages in many industries and the shifts in the UK’s political climate. It, or some version of it is certainly something that global mobility professionals will need to be aware of in the coming years, and we will be exploring the possibility of this and other implications of Brexit with expert speakers and Roundtable sessions at our forthcoming FEM EMEA Summit in London on 10th and 11th November.

See the Agenda, list of Speakers and further details in our Events section.

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Claire Tennant-Scull

Head of Content & Events Director, Forum for Expatriate Management

Claire Tennant-Scull is Head of Content and acting Events Director at the Forum for Expatriate Management (FEM). She chairs all FEM’s Conferences and Summits in the Americas, APAC and EMEA. Claire also leads FEM’s London Chapter and manages the FEM website and associated reports. Claire has more than 20 years’ experience in publishing, working as a managing editor, writer, journalist and broadcaster, both in the print and digital world. She has worked for major publishing houses and was previously the Online Editor at a respected global mobility publisher. Claire is always keen to meet new members and to broaden the FEM community.

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