Recruiters join calls for visa relaxation

The UK’s trade body for the professional recruitment sector has joined other leading business groups in pressing for a relaxation in visa rules to enable companies to recruit the talent they need from overseas.

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In a submission to the government ahead of the Budget in March, the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) says continued skills shortages are being felt by firms across the UK. Despite a slight fall in recent months, there are still more than 1.2 million job vacancies - a near record - according to official figures.

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Skills gaps and global mobility

Highlighting four "crucial" areas that need to be addressed in the Budget, APSCo joined organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the British Chambers of Commerce in calling for an overhaul of the immigration system."Skills gaps that cannot be plugged by the domestic labour market need an international solution. However, the Tier 5 and fast-track visa schemes are too narrow in focus," the organisation maintains."Funding needs to be increased for the Home Office to both support existing systems and drive new visa routes that are more viable for highly skilled, self-employed project workers."APSCo is also calling for reforms to existing apprenticeship and training programmes; a drive to increase investment in skills and training in hubs and regions with strengths in particular industries; and close collaboration between ministers and the recruitment sector to bring in regulations covering umbrella companies to protect workers and their benefits.

Keeping pace with an evolving labour market

Tania Bowers, global public policy director at APSCo, said: “The UK’s labour market has faced a lot of upheaval in the last few years as Brexit, off-payroll reforms and the Covid-19 pandemic all altered the world of work.“However, the consistent issue that has faced businesses has been a lack of access to the skills and resources required. For our economy to grow we must ensure that the labour market is dynamic, flexible, and innovative to attract the right talent, both domestically and internationally.“Support needs to be put in place to allow existing talent and workers to upskill and re-skill where they, or their employers, need or want to. A dynamic, modern, and flexible labour market with enough skilled workers to help the country grow is key to a prosperous economy. Without this, the UK’s ability to bounce back out of any economic uncertainty will be hindered.”

Financial services recruitment squeezed by fewer candidates

In a separate report this week, APSCo revealed that the number of professionals applying for jobs in the financial services sector over the past year had declined by almost a third.Based on data from Broadbean Technology, the world’s largest network of job boards, the report said that job applications within the sector were down by about 30 per cent in January compared to a year earlier, and had declined by 12.5 per cent between November last year and this January alone.Although last year's economic turmoil had resulted in the number of new roles in the sector falling by 16 per cent in the year to January, the number of applications still fell at a far greater rate than vacancies.Ann Swain, CEO of APSCo said: “The data suggests that the financial services sector is facing a growing decline in skills availability. While we saw a fall in vacancy numbers during the latter half of 2022 as economic uncertainty influenced business confidence, application numbers fell at a far greater rate.“We saw in the period following the financial crash of 2008 that failure to invest in skills development, attraction and retention when markets are struggling can have a longer-term detrimental impact on recovery. It’s crucial that the sector doesn’t fall into this trap again, particularly given the news that a recession has been avoided in the UK.“The increase in salaries (of 6.5 per cent over the year) is certainly an indicator that employers are investing in attracting skills, but pay alone isn’t a sustainable route to building skills. The country is in critical need of a strong skills strategy to help it become a hub for financial businesses and talent.”

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