New research has challenged the myth that UK firms are ignoring local workers in favour of overseas labour.
According to a survey by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), in partnership with Middlesex University London, half of UK businesses have faced skills or labour shortages in the last year, but only a minority are actively looking overseas to fill vacancies.
The annual workforce survey, based on the responses of over 1,400 business people, found that 48% of firms had faced skills or labour shortages over the last 12 months. Of these, most sought to address the shortages by increasing investment in recruitment (35%), training (31%) and, pay and benefits (29%).
The survey found that only 8% of businesses target recruitment of non-UK nationals overseas.
It also found that two-in-five (40%) UK businesses have employees from other EU countries on their workforce, while 23% have employees from outside the EU.
According to the survey, 38% of businesses say future restrictions on the rights of EU nationals to work in the UK would have a negative impact on their business.
With a softening economy and slowing immigration, the BCC is calling for action to ensure business growth isn’t hampered by labour shortages.
Business communities are urging the government to provide clarity on the process for hiring EU nationals during and after the Brexit process, and to ensure the UK’s future immigration system is economically responsive, so companies have access to the skills they need.
Jane Gratton, Head of Business Environment and Skills at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: “Skills and labour shortages are prevalent across the economy, with half of UK businesses struggling to fill vacancies in the last year. Most companies look to fill posts locally, and through their own networks and contacts, but as that becomes increasingly difficult, businesses are now having to devote more resources to recruit and train the staff they need.
“While companies rarely target workers from outside the UK, the internet allows people from all over the world to see and apply for opportunities here. Many of our businesses benefit from having a diverse workforce with staff members from across the EU and beyond, bringing with them a range of skillsets.”
David Williams, Director of Corporate Engagement at Middlesex University London, added: “It is essential that we get clarity around the rights of EU nationals and wider immigration policy going forward, but also support for businesses to develop, upskill and retain their workforces through schemes such as apprenticeships, to make sure the UK is able to plan now and compete internationally post-Brexit.
“EU and other international students help to give Middlesex University graduates an international outlook that is vital as they enter a global business environment. International academics and staff add huge value to our local workforce through their diversity of knowledge and skills, and our international students spend over £13m per year in the local economy.”