Increases in skilled migration is good for UK business & the economy

Heather Rolfe of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research discusses her report, published today, which links an increase in migrant workers to a rise in labour productivity.

A new report from NIESR moves the spotlight away from service impacts back to the main driver of migration, which is economic.

The research looks specifically at skilled migration, a key issue for employers. The research also finds interest among the general public in issues of skills and migration, who recognise that they gain from working with migrants.

Why recruit skilled migrants?

The researchers asked employers across the four sectors of Pharmaceuticals, IT, Higher Education and Finance why they recruit from outside the UK.

They said they did so where the supply of skills from within the UK is inadequate; to recruit high level skills which are in short supply world-wide, and to complement the skills of non-migrants.

Researchers then asked members of the public the same question. They saw cost issues as a key factor in why employers recruit migrants.

One of the reasons for this disparity comes from the perception of a migrant worker. For the general public, this conjures up an image of an Eastern European in low skilled, low paid work.

This was very much at odds with the views of employers who, while recruiting at different skill levels, saw skilled migration as most important in meeting their needs.

When focus group participants reflected on it, they realised that the migrants they worked alongside were from a wider range of backgrounds and brought valued skills to their teams.

While concerned about unskilled migration, focus group participants immediately understood the need for skilled migration.

But while they accepted that overseas recruitment is necessary where specialist posts are difficult to fill, they also believed that skills shortages result from an unwillingness to work among some sections of the UK population.

It also believed that young people are ill-prepared for employment, and lack technical and employability skills. They believed that changes were necessary to the UK education.

Some focus group participants felt it has become easy for employers to recruit ready-trained and experienced migrants rather than train locals, but employers said that they don’t recruit migrants rather than invest in training.

This suggests that employers need to convey more clearly to the public the investment they make in training and development of UK recruits. They may also need to be more vocal about the need to recruit from outside the UK.

Employers said that skilled migrants are often not substitutes for natives, but bring additional skills which enhance non-migrants’ skills and enhance the business.

They need people who can ‘think global’, who have a perspective on and understanding of the international nature of the business. Focus group participants recognised that this is important to employers and that the UK born need to ‘up their game’ to compete.

Migration has benefits for British employees and teams

Employers believe that the different experiences and perspectives of migrants create teams with different strengths and make workplaces more dynamic.

Focus group participants talked about how they had benefited from working with people from different backgrounds and with different perspectives and approaches. They also saw benefits to end users of services, for example in health and social work. At the same time, they were uneasy about all-migrant teams.

Diverse teams were also seen to sometimes bring challenges, for example misunderstandings arising from language barriers and cultural differences. These challenges were generally felt by both employers and focus group participants to be relatively minor and outweighed by the benefits.

By providing evidence directly from employers and from employees who work alongside migrants, backed up by statistical data, the research sheds light on why skilled migration is important and how businesses, the economy, workers, customers and service users all benefit.

Heather is a researcher and policy analyst specialising in the field of employment, education and skills. She has extensive experience in the design and management of social policy research and evaluation.

Her research has focused on equality and diversity, migration, barriers to employment and transitions from education to employment, and from unemployment into work.

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