Qualified workers turned away by Home Office as businesses face STEM skills shortage

A new survey from STEM Learning, a provider of STEM education and careers support in the UK, found that there is a STEM skills shortage costing UK businesses £1.5 billion a year in recruitment, temporary staffing, inflated salaries and additional training. Despite this, the Home Office have turned away record numbers of skilled visa applicants.

Employers have expressed their concern that the UK could fall behind other countries in terms of technological advancement (54%), lose research and development credentials (43%) or deter foreign investment in the sector (50%).

Importing talent to fill the STEM skills shortage

According to the research, 48% of companies in the UK are said to be trying to recruit skills from overseas. However, other figures revealed earlier this week, from an FOI by CaSE (Campaign for Science and Engineering), show that the Home Office turned away record numbers of skilled visa applicants.

Between December and March, 6,080 eligible applications for a Tier 2 (General) Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) were refused due to the Government’s annual cap placed on this visa route. Of the 6,080 total refusals, 3,500 were for engineering, IT, technology, STEM teaching and medical roles, with professional services making up the bulk of the rest.

>See also: How are data roles and skills expected to change in 2018?

Despite the digital technology sector being built from investment and talent from across the world, the figures show that over 1,200 IT professionals were refused entry to the UK to take up jobs that they were qualified to do.

The Home Office has commented that “it is important that our immigration system works in the national interest, ensuring that employers look first to the UK resident labour market before recruiting from overseas.”

While CaSE Executive Director Dr Sarah Main said: “These figures show the scale of the problem and the urgency to find a solution. Across the country, businesses and public services are being blocked at the last hurdle from recruiting the people they need, including in health, engineering and tech, due to the visa cap. This leaves employers frustrated and the public poorly served.”

Supporting homegrown talent

Short of importing much-needed skills, IT leaders are equally finding it difficult to hire homegrown talent.

Matt Weston, Managing Director at Robert Half UK, the recruitment consultancy, weighed in: “Technology is changing so rapidly that educational providers simply can’t keep up. As a result, businesses and government must help by developing courses and qualifications that are relevant to today’s digital-first workplace. They need to consider what can they do to give candidates real-world experience as well as address how they can encourage prospective students to undertake and then progress with STEM subjects. Businesses also need to provide current employees with the means to up-skill and develop in work to help address this growing issue.”

A recent government-commissioned report predicts that the UK will needs over half a million additional workers in the digital sector by 2022, while there remains an unemployment rate of 11.7% for computer sciences graduates 6 months after graduation.”

>See also: Businesses are ‘struggling to hire talent’ for the Internet of Things

Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said: “The UK has a world-class higher education system but, as these reviews recognise, more must be done to address the variability in outcomes for some graduates and to ensure all students receive the highest quality teaching. That’s why we are taking action to reform our higher education system, and the findings in these reviews provide valuable insights to ensure students and employers get the best returns on their investment.”

The Shadbolt review of computer sciences degree accreditation and graduate employability revealed a lack of work experience amongst graduates, the need to improve engagement between universities and employers, and disagreement amongst employers on whether graduates should be taught fundamental principles of computer science, or skills that reflect current technologies.

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Andrew Ross

As a reporter with Information Age, Andrew Ross writes articles for technology leaders; helping them manage business critical issues both for today and in the future

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STEM Skills