What is causing the labour shortage in the UK?

The labour shortage in the UK has been caused by many factors. As the government reacts to these shortages we discuss the sustainability of the reaction.

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Last weekend, the Government announced that 5,000 HGV drivers would be able to come to the UK for up to 3-months in the run up to Christmas to tackle the UK’s labour shortage. But what exactly does this mean and is this a sustainable solution to the UK’s labour crisis? Business immigration solicitor, Thal Vasishta, offers his perspective on the UK’s labour shortages.

What is causing the labour shortage in the UK?

The role of the Skilled Worker visa

In 2020, the Skilled Worker visa was introduced as a means to allow individuals to come to the UK to work for an approved employer in an eligible job. Initially, the introduction of the Skilled Worker visa was greeted with praise as it lowered the skills threshold for the sponsorship of migrants, meaning that a wider range of sectors could benefit from the sponsorship regime (e.g. care, retail, and butchers).

However, many lower-skilled occupations which depended on EU workers missed out on qualifying for sponsorship. Their absence from the Skilled Worker visa scheme has meant that the vacancies left by EU workers are not being fulfilled as is shown in the labour shortage in the UK. 

Whilst businesses are right to invest in automation, training and apprenticeships - the impacts of this investment will take a generation to produce benefits. This is time which many businesses do not have.


How has Brexit caused a labour shortage in the UK?

Brexit has caused labour shortages in the UK which have been unfulfilled by the Skilled Worker Visa. The absence of EU workers has been felt in a range of sectors including: hospitality, hotels, warehousing, meat production and construction. However, in recent weeks, the labour shortage in the UK has often been discussed using the example of HGV drivers.

When it comes to HGV drivers in the UK it is thought that there is a shortage of around 1,000 drivers. The shortage of HGV drivers has been driven by the Government’s lack of action which in turn has created a scenario whereby drivers are being recruited by competitors who can offer higher salaries. Moreover, the UK’s departure from the EU means that the UK offering HGV drives to come to the UK for 3-months is unattractive as in EU countries they are able to benefit from permanent employment. 

The lack of benefits for EU citizens to work in the UK post-Brexit combined with the vacancies which cannot be fulfilled through the Skilled Worker visa has created the labour shortage in the UK which we are witnessing today.

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What is the solution?

Ultimately, the solution to the problem lies with tackling the issues presented. However, a complete solution needs to be complete and thought through. As opposed to offering small, temporary solutions to issues after they have arisen, the Government needs to foresee the issues and offer a widespread solution. The solution doesn’t need to be permanent it just needs to be well developed before its implementation.


The Low-Skilled Worker Scheme

Under Theresa May’s Government, she proposed the idea of a ‘low-skilled worker scheme’. The low-skilled visa would allow workers to come to the UK for 12-months from ‘low risk’ countries. To deal with the current labour shortages, this scheme should be extended to allow workers to come to the UK for 24 to 36 months to ensure the stability of workers. For those who are concerned with the increased migration to the UK, hypothetically this visa scheme could be made without the possibility of extension, switching visa application, or even settling in the UK.


Insights from other sectors

Tony Goodger, spokesperson for the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers, said: “We have taken several ideas to the Government around easing the language requirements in order that skilled butchers from overseas can gain the necessary points to receive a work visa. To date the Home Office have not chosen to progress these. It is extraordinary that a fish processor is seen as having RQF3 level skills and allowed to apply for a skilled worker visa and a meat processor isn’t. It’s time that some of the anomalies were resolved."

Greg Tyler, Director at 360 Recruitment, said: “EU workers have gone home and it's now impossible to bring in skilled workers from inside, or outside the EU. We have clients who are on the verge of closing huge factories because they simply do not have enough staff to keep them running. These are perfectly viable businesses with huge order books and ongoing demand." 

Chris Hobson, Director of Policy at East Midlands Chamber, added: “Employers are really starting to struggle when it comes to recruiting staff with the right skills – and at a time when the economy is looking to recover this has the potential to cause significant problems. In our latest economic survey 7 in 10 businesses reported problems in recruiting staff with the right skills, and this existed across the whole spectrum of job roles from entry up to highly skilled. In the longer-term it’s important that we can train people with the right skills and attributes they need for our economy to succeed, but in the here and now it would be a failure of policy if this lack of access to skills stunts our recovery.”


How can Paragon Law help?

If you require assistance with the Skilled Worker visa, or other UK work-related visas then get in touch with us today to arrange a consultation with one of our business immigration lawyers.

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