Call to ease visa rules to tackle skills shortage

One of the UK's largest business organisations is calling for a more flexible and affordable immigration system after a survey found companies are facing mounting problems hiring the skills they need.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) latest 'Recruitment Outlook', based on a survey of more than 5,700 firms, found an unprecedented 70 per cent of companies seeking to hire staff were encountering difficulties finding suitable candidates."The new figures show a surge in the proportion of firms expecting to grow their workforce in the next three months, as well as a notable rise from the previous quarter in the proportion who attempted to recruit.However, the data also show the proportion of those who had difficulty in finding staff climb significantly," said the BCC.In the second quarter of this year, the sectors with the highest proportion of firms attempting to recruit were production and manufacturing (64 per cent) and construction (63 per cent) - an increase from 50 per cent and 54 per cent, respectively, in Q1.The survey found that the types of roles companies were struggling to fill, varied by sector. Many construction and manufacturing firms reported difficulty in filling skilled technical roles, while in professional services and marketing/media firms the difficulties were overwhelmingly among managerial roles, cited by 69 per cent and 60 per cent respectively.Jane Gratton, head of people policy at the BCC, said that, as pandemic lockdown restrictions eased, job creation had expanded but that manufacturing and services, in particular, were being held back by recruitment difficulties at all skill levels, jeopardising growth and productivity. “Whether people have found work in a different sector, changed their working patterns, or left the UK during the recession, firms are now struggling to find the people they need.  It’s vital that business, government and the skills system work together to find solutions," she said.  "Adopting more remote and flexible working patterns will help firms attract skills from a wider talent pool. But we also need access to rapid and agile training and reskilling opportunities for adults in the workforce, alongside a flexible and cost-effective immigration system that ensures fast access to skills when these can’t be recruited locally.”The survey found that 38 per cent of all businesses expected to grow their workforces in the third quarter of the year, an 11-point rise from the previous quarter.More than half of construction firms planned to increase payroll numbers along with 39 per cent of production and manufacturing companies, and 40 per cent of hotel and catering firms.

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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