David Cameron, immigration quotas and the skills gap

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The government immigration quota: how to fill the skills gap

If there's one issue guaranteed to get the pulse of the nation racing, it's immigration. Prime Minister David Cameron has spent the week juggling this particular political hot potato as he visits India to forge stronger trade and business links between the two nations.

However, there seems little doubt that the trip has been overshadowed by the government's announcement of a permanent immigration quota to be introduced from April next year, designed to limit the number of non-Europeans allowed to live and work in the UK.

The decision comes amidst concerns that thousands of workers have been entering the UK through the controversial Intra Company Transfer (ICT) scheme, taking jobs from British workers through stealth offshoring.

Statistics show that India leads the way in ICTs, with more than 166,410 Indian workers entering the UK between 1997 and 2008 through this means - dwarfing the USA, next on the list with 61,845 workers during the same period. It’s unlikely that the Indian government will greet Mr Cameron's announcement with too much enthusiasm.

Perhaps, however, we should also be viewing the decision with some concern here in the UK. Indeed, one of the most important aspects of the government's newly announced quota is that it could also be responsible for leaving the country short of skilled labour in several vital industries.

Healthcare and IT are two examples that rely on an influx of highly skilled workers from abroad. An immigration quota could leave them both severely lacking.

Any legislation aimed at restricting the number of highly skilled people able to live and work in the UK has the potential to create a negative impact on the economy as a whole if not addressed properly - so what is the solution?

It's clear that one of the main reasons this problem exists is that companies in the UK do not spend enough time encouraging and enhancing the skills of their own staff (and potential employees).

Organisations need to realise the importance of investing in staff through dedicated training programmes and by making careers more attractive, all of which can ensure that these skills gaps are bridged, therefore reducing the need to bring in talent from other countries.

Secondly, and more immediately, the short term skills gap brought about by this quota will need to be addressed and this is where outsourcing can play an important role. Gaps where skilled foreign workers would have previously provided expertise could be outsourced, which could, crucially, lead to enhancing the competencies, skills and qualifications of local talent to enable them to manage outsourced programmes.

Outsourcing is growing, and the UK is a world leader in its management, so perhaps this is the future growth area where we should be concentrating our resources and developing UK skills and methods?

Perhaps one of the reasons that immigration has become such a thorny issue is that it is so closely linked to so many other aspects of policy, such as finance and education.

Immigration cannot, and must not be treated in isolation by the government - in the meantime, organisations need to address both the short and long term consequences as they relate to them, and explore the best way for them to plug the skills gap.

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