Create 'digital age' immigration system, says CBI

A massive re-skilling programme for millions of Britons and an effective immigration system to enable the UK to attract overseas IT specialists are called for in a major report on the future of the nation's digital economy.

The report from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the country's largest business group, warns that the UK is facing major talent gaps that will affect business innovation in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.In its 'Building a World-Class Innovation and Digital Economy' report, the CBI says nine out of ten workers will require some form of upskilling by 2030. "The UK’s domestic pipeline for digital skills is at a tipping point."Business demand outstrips supply and millions lack basic digital skills. The UK digital skills pipeline is struggling. Firms are fishing in a small pool for digital talent; CBI research shows that two-thirds of firms are already experiencing digital skills gaps – especially in data analytics and cybersecurity - and demand is set to skyrocket."The report calls on the government to provide a strong digital skills pipeline, which it says would help to tackle the challenges of radical job changes, growing unemployment in the wake of Covid-19 outbreak and inter-generational fairness.Yet the report makes clear that such an upskilling programme must go hand-in-glove with an immigration system that enables businesses to attract the overseas talent they need."Getting the new immigration system right is a top priority to ensure the UK can access and attract the digital skills it needs, whilst the UK builds up the domestic pipeline," says the report."Even though immigration rules have yet to change, the UK’s digital and innovation economy has already found it harder to attract the people and skills from overseas it needs to thrive since the result of the EU referendum in 2016. Continued rhetoric from government about reducing numbers has also made the UK a less attractive destination."The CBI calls for a new immigration regime that caters for undertakings of any size, including sole traders, and one that is open to talent from Europe and around the world, including freelancers.“The new immigration system must be accessible and affordable to businesses of all sizes on day one. Otherwise, even if digital roles are permitted under the new system, employers will be unable to practically hire the people and skills from overseas that they need to grow,” says the report."A strong pipeline of domestic digital skills talent, combined with an open and controlled immigration system, will unlock widespread innovation and ensure everyone can take part in the Covid-19 economic recovery."The CBI is calling on the government to adopt an immigration system fit for the digital age. "Government can create an open and controlled immigration system that meets the adapting needs of UK business, from AI researchers to data technicians and groundworkers needed for the rollout of gigabit-capable broadband technologies."Many of these roles aren’t only important in technology firms, but throughout the economy, from retail to manufacturing."

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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