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UK urged to import more skilled IT workers

The Work Foundation says making the UK more attractive to migrant workers is key to staying competitive in an era of increasing globalisation
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Written by Natasha Lomas on

The UK must do more to attract foreign skilled workers if homegrown hi-tech knowledge industries are to flourish in an era of increasing globalisation.

That's the warning from not-for-profit research organisation The Work Foundation, which has called on politicians and policy makers to do more to address looming pressures in the labour market as demand for knowledge workers in sectors such as IT increases.

A new report from The Work Foundation, Towards a Global Labour Market?, states that soaring demand for highly skilled workers, along with existing skills shortages and the UK's ageing population, means businesses must look to source workers from abroad if Britain is to remain competitive.

It argues that the new, points-based immigration system will not be enough and politicians must actively make the case for highly skilled migrants.

"Talented people want career opportunities, the chance to expand knowledge by working with the brightest and best, good salaries, and the creation of diverse and exciting cities," the report states.

The Work Foundation report also points out that availability of skilled workers can influence where companies choose to base themselves, especially those working at the cutting edge of R&D, and claims a climate of hostility towards immigration in the UK could harm the hi-tech sector as foreign workers are discouraged from coming to Britain.

Report author, Katerina Rüdiger, said in a statement: "Global firms need more global people, not just to fill shortages but for the sake of enabling firms to innovate."

Earlier this year, research from IT industry skills body e-skills UK, claimed 140,000 IT and telecoms workers are likely to be needed each year to keep up with industry demand for staff.

The Work Foundation report notes that up-skilling native workers, while important, will not in itself be enough to power the UK's 'knowledge economy', pointing out that employment in knowledge industries in the EU grew by 24 percent between 1995 and 2004 while total employment growth in the region was just 1.1 percent.

Competition for knowledge workers, especially in IT, science and technology, is, therefore, set to intensify.

Language skills, combined with international experience and outlook, will be increasingly important in the coming years, according to Rüdiger. "The UK needs to be seen, along with the US, Canada and Australia, as being among the most open and attractive places for highly skilled people to want to move," she said.

According to the report, the UK employs the third largest number of migrants with professional and technical skills (715,000) after the US and Canada. Indian nationals are the largest group of highly skilled migrant workers in the UK, with almost a quarter of skilled migrants admitted to the UK under the previous work-permit regime being ICT professionals.

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