Eastleigh, Immigration and IT Skills

One of the lessons from the Eastleigh election is that the UKIP surge was based on anti-immigration as much as on the desire to escape from EU over-regulation. Who-ever wishes to win the next election, as opposed to holding the balance of power, will have to respond to both agendas. In that context  David Cameron’s speach in India, welcoming their students and businessmen to the UK may have been rational, but it was a red rag to a bull. It probably helped the late UKIP surge more than the claims that the LibDems were no better than any other party at handling influential sex-pests.

Those who wish to see Cameron’s intentions turned into reality and, more importantly, extended to China, have to do some clever footwork. I was interested to note that a commentator on Conservative Home not only found, but liked, one of the priorities in the Conservative Technology Forum study programme . His summary was, however, better than my original wording: “Provide local access to world-class, sustainable education and training infrastructures and remove the current incentives to employers to recruit rather than retrain, to import skilled staff from abroad when they cannot recruit locally and to move jobs off-shore if they cannot get the visas to import them.

In that context we should also look at Gartners forecast of the implosion of the bloated Western consultancy and outsourcing sector and take a particular look at how to refresh the skills of those who will be made redundant from the big public sector contractors and systems integrators, before they too become embittered immigrant bashers.

Those who wish the UK to continue to offer world class skills and training for those following global career paths, with all the benefits that follow, need to recognise that they have to decouple their lobbying from that of those who simply wish to import cheaper contractors.

The “solution” includes looking at how other nations handle the fast-tracking of those whose identity, qualifications and plans are under-written by a reputable employer, college or university. The failure to cleanse the processes used by UKBA over the past twenty years, since the demise of ITTAC (the joint accreditation group set up by BCS, IDPM and others, at the request of the British Council, to help sort out rogue colleges and then ignored by those who requested it) is indefensible at any level.

Ensuring the new processes not only work but are publicly defensible is, however, easier said than done. The last attempt, hosted by Intellect some years ago, petered out after a promising start met the immediate objectives of the active participants, without addressing the broader problems. The next attempt needs to be joint with the universities, who will be in dire trouble without the income from overseas students, and to involve the smaller, innovative companies, who are more likely to depend on those who wish to apply their new skills in the UK before returning home.