Better training plea to bosses
Employers are facing calls to improve staff training to prevent the country's skills base from declining.
It comes after a study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and KPMG suggested one in ten employers was planning to outsource jobs overseas in the next year.
The move has been blamed on the Government's immigration cap, which is due to be introduced next April, combined with what firms described as a decline in the skills of British graduates and school-leavers.
Of those questioned, 42 per cent felt the literacy skills of British graduates had fallen over the past five years, compared with just six per cent who said they had improved.
In numeracy, the corresponding figures were 35 per cent and five per cent, and for communication and interpersonal skills, 34 per cent and 19 per cent.
Gerwyn Davies, public policy adviser at CIPD, said: "The proposed introduction of a migration cap comes at a time when many employers are still struggling to fill skilled vacancies despite the high unemployment rate.
"The training of local or British workers to fill skilled jobs currently occupied by migrant workers will not happen overnight."
He said the current points-based system for immigration, which stops low-skilled workers coming to Britain, is working, while an overall cap could "impede growth in UK companies".
Figures released on Thursday showed Britain had become the second most crowded nation in the European Union, with a net immigration figure of 196,000 last year – up 20 per cent from 2008.
While the Office for National Statistics said the number flocking into Britain dipped from 590,000 to 567,000 in 2009, the number departing dropped from 427,000 to 371,000.
However, the recession meant there was a drop in work-related visas handed out to skilled foreign workers, from 72,570 to 66,110 – a fall of nine per cent.
Leicestershire firms said they wanted access to the best workers.
Alex Kazami, commercial director of software firm Impero International, in Loughborough, said the company was already outsourcing some technical work to a team of five in India.
He said: "We outsourced because we weren't able to find the right skills over here and it also made sense on the financial and management side.
"It was relatively easy to get those skilled workers in India, although in an ideal world it would be better to have the workers right here in this office. When it comes to an immigration cap, I think the rules need to be different when it comes to skilled workers.
"If there's going to be a cap it's essential that there is training in place so that it's easier to get the skilled workers here in Britain."
Sandy Scott, of software firm Safe Computing, in Freeschool Lane, Leicester, said: "This is clearly a delicate issue, but I think it's right that there's some form of immigration control – not just from the employment point of view, but because of the impact that it has on social services.
"However, the process shouldn't make it too unreasonable for companies to justify bringing the right people in.
"You have to balance the skills that you need with the right for people in this country to have a fair opportunity to work."
MigrationWatch UK – a thinktank in favour of reducing immigration sharply – has called on companies to "stop complaining and start training", because "for every skilled worker imported, that is a British worker not trained".
Pete Taylor, operations manager for recruitment firm Encore Personnel, which has an office in Leicester, agreed the onus was on companies to improve the quality of staff.
He said: "Companies need to be more sensible about how they do business so they're not vulnerable to Government policy change like this.
"It's right that companies look at improving the skills of workers here in Britain."
Head Office, Support and Sales
20 Freeschool Lane, Leicester LE1 4FY
Tel: 0116 262 9321 Fax: 0116 251 5535