Employers look abroad to plug skills gaps


Growing skills shortages are forcing employers to look to migrant workers to fill key roles as a new survey finds that half of British employers expect to have trouble finding the right staff this year.

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), over half (52 per cent) of employers expect to have increased the total number of employees on their pay roll by the end of the autumn, and almost as many expect to have difficulty finding them.

But this steadfastly tight labour market does not seem to be causing upwards pressure on wages as employers resist the temptation of offering higher salaries and opt to invest in training and development of their existing staff as well as turning to migrant labour to fill vacancies.

Over half of the 1,500 employers quizzed for the CIPD’s Quarterly Trends and Indicators Survey said that professional vacancies and skilled trade vacancies had proved most difficult to fill over the summer, and almost one in three (28 per cent) is planning to recruit workers from overseas this autumn.

Amongst larger companies with more than 500 employees, this figure rises to 40 per cent.

The public sector is most likely to turn to migrant workers – a third of public sector employers are planning to do so, compared to just over a quarter (27 per cent) in the private sector and a quarter (24 per cent) in the not-for-profit sector, a disparity that might be explained by the large numbers of foreign medical staff taken on by the NHS.

Three-quarters of the jobs on offer to offering migrant workers are permanent, with only fewer than one in ten employers looking for only short-term or seasonal workers.

Dr John Philpott, CIPD Chief Economist, said that employers were being forced to look overseas for want of any domestic alternative.

"This puts the heated political debate about immigration into perspective. If rules are tightened in an arbitrary way, employers across business and government could suffer,” he said.

"It is interesting to note that the majority of employers are using migrant labour to fill vacancies requiring professional and technical skills, and are offering permanent contracts – against a common perception of low-skill, low-paid and casual jobs for migrant workers.”

Overall, the survey also suggests that a slight easing of tight labour market conditions is on the way. The 17 per cent positive balance of employers expecting to employ more staff by autumn 2005 over those expecting to employ fewer is the lowest recorded in the CIPD’s quarterly survey this year.

Amongst the quarter of all employers conducting a pay review in the autumn, four out of ten expect no increase in average pay levels, and a third expect pay levels to increase by between two per cent and four per cent.

"While employers expect a slight easing in the labour market over the next year, it seems certain that recruitment difficulties will continue to be a problem for employers, “ John Philpott said.

"It is encouraging, however, that employers are confident they can keep a lid on inflationary pay pressures, despite a combination of limited supply and relatively high demand in the labour market."