Digital tech skills added to Shortage Occupation Lists for UK and Scotland

Digital tech sector roles added to Shortage Occupation List, along with health sector and energy industry workers

UK employers could find it easier to recruit international graduates with digital skills, after graduate occupations in the digital technology sector were added to the Shortage Occupation Lists (SOL) for the UK.

The Partial review of the Shortage Occupation Lists for the UK and for Scotland report by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has recommended that the job titles product manager, data scientist, senior developer and cyber security specialist be added to the list.

In light of this MAC is recommending that the government eases regulations on hiring non-European staff in these roles. According to MAC, an independent body that advises government on migration issues, migration rules should be relaxed so employers do not have to demonstrate that they have previously tried to fill the role domestically before looking abroad for staff from outside the EEA. 

On the findings of the review, which was requested by the government, the committee said: “Following the MAC’s comprehensive review of the SOL, published in February 2013, the government has been made aware of a small number of occupations where there may be a case for inclusion on or removal from the SOL.

“These occupations are: graduate occupations in the health sector, including consultant roles, nurses and training grades; graduate occupations in the digital technology sector; and linesworkers in the energy industry.”

The report found that startups are struggling to recruit experienced staff with at least five years' work experience, who could train others and lead teams.

One of the companies to help with the call for evidence was Infosys, which said despite offering offshore-based software services, its UK roles require a longer-term exposure in the UK or for senior and more specialised roles they seek to employ within the UK.

Infosys told the committee that it finds several roles difficult to source from the UK because the engineering graduate pipeline in Europe is much smaller than those of non-EEA countries.

Employers were asked why they could not make more use of technology to enable staff to work from different locations, however the committee was told that offshoring and outsourcing some elements of a digital technology company has previously been found to be unsuccessful.

Employers agree that while some automated roles could be offshored or outsourced, companies looking to grow need to have their growth team onsite.

Evidence of skills shortage

As part of the report’s call for evidence, tech sector trade association TechUK conducted a survey of its members, asking them to list three areas with the most pronounced shortages. These were, senior developers, big data specialists and cyber security specialists. More than half of the survey respondents stated that they had a shortage of specialised developers.

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Antony Walker, deputy CEO of TechUK, said the announcement showed that the government’s own independent expert advisory committee recognised the shortages faced by technology and digital firms, and the vital importance of these roles for making sure the UK is a global hub for tech talent.

“Fast-growing tech scale-ups are competing for the best tech talent with companies around the world," he said. "We now look to the government to adopt the recommendations and add these important tech roles to the Shortage Occupation List, helping tech and digital startups and scale-ups grow more quickly, in turn creating more jobs and growth for the UK. 

"These key roles are job multipliers – they enable companies to grow and create more jobs for people right across the UK."

According to Walker, the MAC has listened to what industry needs and recommended positive steps to make it easier for tech companies to recruit international talent.

“These recommendations are a welcome recognition not just of the shortage of certain skills, but also that if the UK is a global hub for tech it must be a global hub for talent," he said.

"That's why techUK last year called a ‘smart migration’ approach in the UK, and this announcement is a positive step towards that goal.”

Under-investment in training cause of skills shortage and morale reduction

A separate report by recruiter Robert Walters has found 72% of businesses are affected by severe talent shortages, causing decreased productivity in one in five (18%) companies.

Of the businesses surveyed, 43% said they are struggling to meet deadlines and client expectations, which is taking its toll on staff morale. Some 24% said morale has reduced as unfilled vacancies add pressure to existing staff workloads.

Over half (56%) of employers said they had struggled to recruit for some roles, however only 32% said there was a lack of candidates available.

Chris Hickey, CEO of Robert Walters UK, said that after several years of under-investment in training and entry-level recruitment, businesses are now playing catch-up. 

“Until their staffing requirements are met, employers must be particularly mindful of how the added pressure is impacting morale or risk more people leaving and exacerbating the problem.

“Training is an essential solution, but employers also need to look outside the pool of active jobseekers and consider ‘passive’ candidates who aren’t currently hunting for a new job. There is talent out there, but it needs to be sought out. Employers also need to be more open-minded about who they recruit, looking to individuals who have potential to acquire skills on the job.”

Of those questioned, 42% of employers said they are up-skilling staff and 25% are seeking to fast-track career progression opportunities for current personnel. For staff looking to leave, 65% of employers said they use counter-offers.

“The shortage is forcing employers to nurture the talent they have, and many are willing to fight hard to keep important individuals. Employers must react to what employees want and for many this will mean improved work-life balance, career progression and pay," said Hickey.

“To overcome staffing challenges in a talent-short market, hiring managers must couple staff retention programmes with long-term recruitment strategies.”

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