Many UK businesses are calling for a relaxation in the visa restrictions that limit the number of skilled workers from outside the European Union (EU) that can enter the UK to work. Significant numbers of employers are struggling to fill key information and communication posts because of a mismatch between the skills that UK graduates possess and the skills that employers require. Some UK employers are finding it so difficult to locate the skills that they need that they are looking abroad to find candidates to fill key posts.

Why Employers Are Seeking Candidates from Abroad

According to a survey carried out by City & Guilds, 74% of employers operating in IT, digital and information services believe their sector is facing a skills shortage. This is considerably higher than average. Across all industry sectors, 58% of employers reported that they face skills shortages.

Of the employers who believe they will need to recruit from abroad, 61% believe that this is necessary because young people in the UK are leaving education without the right skills.

Solving the IT Skills Shortage

The fact that there is an IT skills shortage in the UK has attracted the attention of politicians and Labour Leader Ed Miliband recently offered the opinion that the IT industry was being let down by this skills shortage and pointed to government statistics that indicated a significant drop (almost 25%) in the uptake of IT apprenticeships in the past 12 months.

Organisations throughout the UK are consistently being frustrated by the lack of home-grown talent and the dearth of apprentices coming into the industry has meant that skilled workers often end up being used ineffectively, by working on low-level repetitive tasks rather than putting their talents to better use by working on more complex problem solving assignments.

This is not only an issue for an IT professional who can feel that their expertise and knowledge is not being fully utilised, but it also means that an employer is not achieving the maximum value and return on their investment and stifles creativity and progress with internal projects being held back or postponed.

Tier 2 Visas

Skilled workers who want to move to the UK to work and are not EU nationals require a tier 2 visa. The worker needs to have a firm job offer from a company that cannot fill the vacancy with a settled worker. A settled worker is defined as a person who already resides and has permission to work within the UK.

For example, workers from India or the USA who want to accept IT jobs in Stockport would need to apply to the UK Borders Agency for tier 2 visas. The employer would need to have advertised the posts in the local area and provide evidence that there were no suitable candidates already based in the Stockport area.

Migrant workers need to score sufficient points in order to qualify for tier 2 visas. At present, only 20,700 tier 2 visas can be issued under the points-based scheme for jobs attracting salaries of less than £152,100. There is no limit on the number of visas that can be issued for jobs paying more than £152,100. The most common source of tier 2 visas is applicants starting work in the information and communications sector.

Large Numbers of UK IT Graduates are Job Hunting

At the same time as some UK employers are finding it difficult to fill IT vacancies, 12.9% of UK computer science graduates are unemployed, according to statistics published by the Higher Education Statistics Authority (HESA). Unemployment rates for computer science are higher than for any other subject area.

The IT Skills Mismatch

One of the difficulties in matching candidates to vacancies is the lack of emphasis on coding within certain IT qualifications. Coding skills are essential for IT workers who need to create websites, graphics and computer games. Coding skills are not required for workers who will be users of IT systems, but any IT professional who needs to go behind the scenes needs to understand how to write code effectively.

A particular problem in the public sector has been a growing trend for entry-level engineers to gain experience and knowledge within the confines of a publicly-funded organisation, only to leave when they acquire skills that make them a more valuable commodity in the private sector, often finding a greater level of remuneration in the process.

The public sector in particular would benefit more if they tackle this issue and think about how they train their staff and what opportunities they offer them to use their skills to maximum effect.

Article by Steven Pearson who has experience working in IT job placements. With a strong background in IT human resources, his articles mainly appear on IT career related sites.