Where are the IT workers coming from?

05 December 2016

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A recent study by a venture capital firm (Balderton) notes that one of the possible problems that might result from Brexit is that tech firms in the UK won’t be able to recruit IT talent from overseas so easily.  At present, of course, people can come from Europe without restrictions. As we’ve written about in previous blogs, IT specialists from elsewhere in the world have to have skills on the government list of approved jobs – i.e. those where there is a recognised skill shortage in the UK.  This means that not too many of them come.

Also, as the Balderton study shows, it takes far longer (16 weeks on average) to recruit someone from outwith Europe (via the Tier 2 visa system) as opposed to three weeks for those from within the EU.  Companies don’t want to wait that long. Moreover, the current weakness of the pound makes UK salaries slightly less competitive. 

It’s easy for newspapers to come up with headlines that threaten doom and disaster, but one thing the IT industry as a whole must do is make the most vociferous representations to government about the state of its employment market and where the talent is that we so desperately need if we want to remain a world-leader in tech.

As IT recruiters, we know as well as anyone what a difficult and often highly competitive business this is, and we also know of the lack of a talent pipeline coming through our schools and the difficulties of recruiting worldwide.  If – and it’s a big if – the government can conjure up a system that makes it far easier and quicker to bring in talent from beyond Europe then that would be great.

Similarly, it’s not just a question of increasing the numbers of home-grown IT students – it would make sense to continue to get as many highly qualified students from overseas (especially from what will be the 21st century’s two economic powerhouses – China and India) and, hopefully, keep some of them here.  Yet this issue is clouded by the argument over whether these students are to be counted in the immigration figures.  As even Boris Johnson argues, this is a nonsense – these foreign students bring in money, fees and skills and in return we get soft power, influence and, ideally, new entrepreneurs who set up start-ups that power our economy. It’s worth noting that the Balderton study showed that in 2015, some 43% of tech start-ups in the UK had at least one foreign founder.

The problem however, as with everything to do with Brexit, is that no-one actually knows what will happen. This is not just a problem for Britain. After the Italian referendum result, who can guess what will happen there? Then we have Dutch, French and German elections next year.  The euro could collapse, or the pound could collapse, or Donald Trump could instigate a trade war with China.  We live in interesting times…

Gareth Biggerstaff, MD, Be-IT Resourcing

 

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