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Businesses need to look beyond national borders to tackle skills gap

Image credit: Volodymyr Melnyk/Dreamstime

Remote working on a global scale is the key to addressing the UK’s technology skills deficit.

Many UK industries, including the tech sector, are finding themselves having to address a significant skills challenge at a time when importing talent into the UK from their closest neighbour, the EU, has become more difficult.

One in ten job vacancies in the UK is in tech, according to business network Tech Nation, and the shortage of the skills needed to fill these roles is well documented. Research from the Learning and Work Institute has found that less than half of UK businesses say young people entering the workforce have the advanced digital skills they require.

At the same time, the Covid-19 pandemic has unequivocally changed the way we think about the workplace. People have grown accustomed to working remotely and businesses are far more confident that they can operate effectively in this environment. Tech firms must harness this more flexible remote workforce to access the talent they need to grow.

Three-quarters of businesses in the Learning and Work survey say a lack of digital skills hurts their bottom line. To ensure their future profitability they inevitably need to look beyond national borders to fill that skills gap. The EU’s proximity and abundance of tech talent makes it a vital labour market, but Brexit creates complexities associated with bringing foreign workers into the UK. The skills gap and immigration changes create the perfect recipe to disrupt the status quo.

At Velocity Global, we recently conducted a study of 500 UK and 500 US tech business leaders which revealed close to half (46 per cent) in the UK intend to continue or accelerate recruitment of foreign workers, but to hire them remotely in their own country.

The business conditions of the last 18 months make firms far more comfortable with an entirely remote employee relationship. Amidst the pandemic, some of the largest tech companies in the world adopted ‘remote first’ policies in perpetuity. Employees can be anywhere they choose or anywhere the company chooses to hire them. The research demonstrates that larger tech companies lead the way. More than a third (34 per cent) of tech businesses with 501-1,000 employees are more likely to hire remote workers overseas, while smaller and more nimble companies are not far behind with 27 per cent of companies with 200-500 employees; 21 per cent for companies with 100-199 employees; and 10 per cent for companies with 50-99 employees.

The pandemic gave larger firms a head start over their SME peers through large-scale investments to rapidly establish support for a remote workforce. The skills deficit affects corporations and smaller tech firms equally, but fast-growing tech companies are positioned to accelerate the value of global remote talent. Small tech companies leverage agility to compete with the big players – fewer moving parts often means more manoeuvrability – and this needs to be the case in the competition for global talent as well.

Whether at enterprise scale or in growth mode, a shift to remote workers can remove barriers like setting up a foreign entity, but global regulations are in constant flux, especially through the pandemic. Companies must keep compliance and flexibility at the forefront of their international remote hiring plans.

Tapping into talent pools overseas helps to meet skills shortages at home and it opens up new markets further afield by giving a business a foothold in a new territory. Employees now expect jobs that allow them to live anywhere. Factoring global remote work into the recruitment strategy is a way for tech firms to hit all these objectives at once, ensure they possess the skills needed to grow, and offer an employment proposition that meets the ever-growing demand for flexibility.

Sarah Fern is chief people officer at Velocity Global

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