The UK's hi-tech sector will need tens of thousands of additional skilled migrant workers in the next five years, but attracting skilled IT professionals from abroad to plug those gaps may become more difficult.
A report by consultancy the Centre for Economics and Business Research for recruitment company Harvey Nash into the impact of skilled migrant workers has predicted the IT, telecoms and transport sector will need an extra 19,000 skilled migrants between 2007 and 2012, as demand for e-commerce and software specialists increases.
The total number of jobs held and reliant upon other jobs done by highly skilled migrants is forecast to rise to 1.5 million by 2012, while the total population of highly skilled migrants is predicted to be 812,000 in 2012 — or 1.3 percent of the UK population.
The report said the IT, telecoms and transport sector is responsible for employing the largest number of skilled migrant workers in the UK after education, health and government services — a grouping which includes the thousands of migrant healthcare professionals employed in the NHS.
By 2012, the IT, telecoms and transport sector is set to have a highly skilled working migrant population of 160,000, rising from 141,000 in 2007. This figure for the education, health and government services sector is set to rise from 223,000 skilled migrant workers in 2007, to 253,000.
According to the report, the population of highly skilled international software professionals jumped by 26,000 in the UK between 2000 and 2007 as "the almost universal rollout of computing and internet facilities increased the demand for personnel with information technology skills". This millennium skills gap was plugged predominantly by IT professionals from India, the report stated.
But the report suggested it may become increasingly difficult for the UK to source the migrant IT workers that it needs.
"The growth of e-commerce will require an ever-increasing number of IT professionals. These employees will primarily be sourced from India. However, as India has a rapidly growing economy and with the onset of outsourcing, these professionals may become harder to attract," stated the report.
The total financial value of skilled migrant workers to the UK is forecast to be £46bn by 2012, with IT, telecoms and transport set to comprise £10.4bn of that — second only to education, health and government services (£10.8bn).
Azim Premji, chairman of Bangalore-based IT company Wipro, recently warned that the Western world is "seriously underestimating" the scale of the technology skills shortage it faces.