Business leaders have repeatedly warned of a serious shortage of British graduates qualified to fill key engineering jobs, a position justified by a report authored by Prof. John Perkins and published by the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) in November 2013.
The dearth of skilled home grown graduates has led to migrants filling one fifth of jobs in key industries. With migrants accounting for 20% of workers in fields such as oil and gas extraction, aerospace manufacturing and computer, electronics and optical engineering. Such is the scale of the skills deficit, half of the 119 occupations on the Government’s shortage occupation list require engineering qualifications. Firms requiring these skills have a special dispensation to employ staff from overseas.
This situation has long term consequences. One third of university places in engineering and technology subjects are currently filled by non-British students. The turn around in the education system that must happen if British school children are to be encouraged to pursue disciplines leading to jobs in engineering cannot happen quickly enough. The report by Prof. John Perkins outlines the crippling skills shortage amongst British workers while almost 1 million 16 to 24 year olds are classified as not in education, employment, or training (NEET). It is clear migrants will continue to be an important source of engineering skills for some time.
This acute skills deficit poses huge problems for British engineering and technology companies. Difficulties filling engineering vacancies delays and hampers projects and consequently stalls research and development and economic growth. James Dyson, founder of Dyson, the technology group, believes the solution lies in education. He proposes offering financial incentives to encourage the brightest and the best towards areas of vital national interest, with costs quickly recouped as engineering graduates earn higher salaries and will therefore pay more taxes throughout their working life.
The Government’s flagship immigration policy, an important election issue, is possibly having a negative impact on non-EU students and may deter thousands of international students from coming to study in UK universities. BIS claims that overseas students contribute over £13 billion to the UK economy each year and is not just focused on the brighest and the best but sees education as a commodity that can be sold to India which has a huge young population and an under-supply of higher education. As we reported here last February, David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister, during his visit to India, emphasised that students from there were welcome in the UK and that there was not a cap on how many could come here as undergraduates.
The Home Office crackdown on “bogus students” is thought to have affected students from India and Pakistan. Nicola Hart of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said “”The Home Office is cracking down particularly strongly on visas issued in a number of countries including India, which probably accounts for the reported halving of numbers of Indian students coming to the UK in just two years,” she said.
Non EU international students are classified as ‘migrants’ if they stay in the UK for more than one year and the post-study work visa has been abolished which means that many are included in the calculation of figures for net migration which the government promises to reduce before the next election. This is at odds with industry demands. Both BIS and Dyson believe the long term key to the skills deficit, lies in education of both British and international students with Dyson saying “We need to start handing out visas to the brightest students at the graduation hall.”
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