Should we be following Germanys’ lead in addressing the UK skills shortage?
The UK is currently one of the best places in the world to start or run a technology company. A combination of government policies and initiatives have contributed to the UK technology industry’s competitiveness. Low corporation tax, a well run R&D tax credit system, Patent Box and the work of UKTI are all examples of how the government is helping to make the UK a great place to grow a globally competitive tech firm.
Unfortunately, we now face a situation of ‘what the right-hand giveth, the left hand taketh away’. The government’s inability or unwillingness to distinguish between skilled and unskilled immigration is in danger of crippling UK startups and stunting the growth of UK technology as a whole. In fact, the UK skills shortage is now so severe that concerns about the inability to find the right people, expressed in high tech for the last number of years, are now being raised across numerous sectors including accountancy, marketing and creative industries etc.
The government’s visa policy is confusing, expensive, time-consuming and opaque. The system has become more expensive and complex over the last 5 years in direct correlation to the skills shortage becoming more severe. Under the German ‘Blue Card’ scheme an individual can themselves obtain a work permit if they are degree qualified and in receipt of a job offer in excess of circa 39,000 Euros (look Teresa May, no costly licenses necessary!). This is the policy of a government that recognises that a skills shortage leads to lost tax revenue and reduced competitiveness. The Home Office seems to want to punish companies who want to try to grow in a skills-short environment. Should UK companies really be having to pay handsomely for the privilege of trying to compete globally and, in doing so, contribute to the health of UK plc?
And of course, Brexit must be mentioned in this context. I am personally in the REMAIN camp and believe that access to EU skills is key to the health of the UK technology sector. However, now we are leaving the EU, the fundamental message is the same: the UK government needs to get its stance toward skilled immigration right. MPs and civil servants throughout the land should be patting themselves on the back for helping to create a thriving, dynamic and competitive technology community …. but those efforts will have been in vain if the sapling sized startups and SMEs can’t grow up into Apple (other fruits are available) trees.