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Tapping Into International Talent: UK's Approach to Address Talent Shortage

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Although the United Kingdom has a record-high rate of employment, having climbed back above its pre-COVID number, the country still faces a shortage in recruiting qualified and diverse talent.

The UK government reports being short of approximately one million workers, which is holding back the economy’s growth and contributing to the UK’s issues with inflation.

UK companies struggle particularly with specific skill gaps. The biggest shortages existed in fields like accommodation and food service activities. Fields like the technology industry, which traditionally require more post-secondary education, like cybersecurity, data management and software development are a few of the most highly sought-after skills in 2023, yet UK companies are having difficulty finding qualified UK-based employees with the proper technical skills for roles in these fields.

Labour Shortage UK 

There are several contributing factors to why the UK is currently facing labour and skills shortages. After the COVID-19 pandemic, the country has not had enough worker supply to fill the market demand for talent. Part of the issue is due to people exiting the workforce and choosing not to return. Long-term illnesses or illness complications relating to COVID-19 were a major contributor to the lack of employees returning to work. Issues with Britain’s public services have also been cited as an issue. The NHS (National Health Service) has extremely long wait times that have caused many people in the UK difficulties in dealing with long-term illnesses or medical problems. Hard-to-access childcare was also a factor in keeping potential UK workers reluctant to come back to their jobs. There is also a significant UK tech talent shortage. 

Another factor is the UK’s separation from the European Union. Because EU workers tended to take on jobs requiring less advanced education, a lack of EU workers eligible to work in the UK caused a drop in candidates for lower-skilled roles in the country, creating a UK tech talent shortage, as well as a skills shortage in sectors like agriculture and retail.

Since the pandemic, many workers, not only in the UK but worldwide, have re-evaluated their relationships with the workplace and are prioritizing other things including family time, personal health and rest. Some former employees have chosen not to come back due to stringent corporate policies that negatively impact work-life balance or personal time in favour of work.

Hiring Global Employees

How can UK companies fill labour shortages with global employees? Filling labour shortages in the UK with international workers can be a viable solution, but it requires a lot of strategy and compliance with immigration and labour laws. Here are some steps and considerations for UK companies looking to hire employees from a global talent pool to address labour shortages:

Identify Skill Gaps: 

Determine the specific skills and roles that are in high demand and for which there is a shortage of local talent. This will help you target remote workers more effectively.

Immigration Compliance:

  • Understand UK immigration regulations and local employment laws. The UK's immigration system changed significantly with the end of the Brexit transition period and the introduction of the Points-Based System (PBS).
  • Ensure that your company is eligible to sponsor foreign workers. You may need a Sponsor License from the Home Office to do so.
  • Familiarize yourself with the specific visa categories that are relevant to your hiring needs, such as the Skilled Worker Visa or Intra-Company Transfer Visa.

Recruitment Strategies:

  • Utilize online job boards, recruitment agencies, and professional networks during your hiring process to source global talent. Companies that are setting themselves apart in a difficult market are getting creative with their recruitment strategies, so it’s a good idea to do some market research to see how you can remain competitive. 

Advertisements for jobs are now listed everywhere, from traditional job search sites like LinkedIn, Indeed or ZipRecruiter to job boards, print ads and social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram. Get creative with where you post jobs and how often you advertise the roles you’re hiring for! Think about where your target audience for workers would be looking and try to tailor your recruitment efforts to where they will realistically see your ads.

  • Consider attending international job fairs or industry-specific events to connect with potential candidates. This can be a great way to get higher quality leads on candidates. Although in a tight market, you may feel an urge to hire anyone and everyone just to fill roles, professional and network events may give you access to higher quality candidates than you may find through just looking online. 

Chances are people at industry events have a higher level of passion for their work, especially at events like conferences where you pay to attend. Although quantity is an important factor when you’re facing a severe shortage, it’s important to think about the quality of leads you’re attracting too! Remember, hiring is an expensive process and if you have to terminate and onboard new employees every other month, you’re losing profits quickly on onboarding that you could be spending on what your business does best.

Offer Competitive Compensation and Benefits:

  • To attract global talent, ensure that your compensation packages are competitive not only within the UK but also on a global scale. It’s important to stay in the know on what is considered an industry-competitive rate for the jobs you hire for. Think about what a fair pay offer is to attract the skill level you want for a given role. 

When hiring internationally, keep in mind that pay levels vary around the globe. Many international employees look to UK employers since the country is wealthier than many on average and can offer higher salaries. Although you don’t want to make offers that are too far over industry standards that will run your business dry, make sure your offers are fair and competitive to a global market, not just a UK one.

  • Consider offering relocation assistance and support for visa applications.

Incentivize Workers to Come Back

  • Although many sectors lack workers, older employees are speaking up against age discrimination in the job market that excludes them from the workforce, in favour of Millennial or Gen Z workers. Don’t limit your hiring, international or local to younger employees only. Although many UK workers aged 50-65 left the workforce as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, when surveyed, 58% of older employees said they would consider returning to a job that was a good fit and provided a reasonable work-life balance. 

Keep this in mind if you are looking to bring back previous talent to your team. There are likely older international employees who may also want to work for you. Think about how you can be flexible to entice older employees to come back to the workforce. Provide options that don’t exclude them from company culture and consider offering more part-time or flex-hour positions that let them holistically work around other pursuits they may be involved in.

Remote Work and Hiring International Employees:

  • In some cases, you may not need to relocate employees to the UK. Remote work arrangements can be an option, especially for roles that can be performed remotely. If you’re looking for workers in sales, marketing, IT, cybersecurity or other tech-based roles, for example, many can be performed from a worker’s home country. 

This can be enticing since it won’t require the expenses of moving or require your workers to uproot their lives. That being said, it can be beneficial to ask candidates more about themselves during the recruitment process to see if moving to the UK for a lifestyle or career change would be beneficial to them.

  • Explore cross-border hiring where employees remain in their home countries but work for your UK-based company. This may have tax and legal implications, so make sure to check in with your legal team. If you don’t have in-house legal counsel, an Employer of Record service can be an effective way to make sure you stay legally compliant if you’re looking to allow team members to work remotely from their countries of origin.

Cultural Integration:

  • Create a welcoming and inclusive work environment for international employees. Major cities like London, Manchester and Birmingham are home to thriving immigrant communities. The opportunity to network both professionally and personally may appeal to workers who are hesitant about moving to the UK. 

Helping your workers integrate into places where they already see others from their home cultures thriving and succeeding professionally can be the push they need to feel confident if they need to adapt to UK life. Sensitivity training and diversity and inclusion programs can help you with this.

  • Offer language support and training, if necessary.

Compliance with UK Employment Law:

  • Make sure your employment contracts and working conditions comply with UK labour laws and UK employment laws. 
  • Familiarize yourself with UK employment rights and obligations, like minimum wage, working hours, and employee benefits.

Documentation and Records:

  • Maintain accurate records of employees' immigration status, work eligibility and employment contracts to avoid legal issues. It’s especially important to be mindful of this for not only employee protection but for your own. Failure to comply with financial or legal immigration status can create issues for your company, including fines or financial punishments that will set you back. It’s a good idea to consult with legal counsel who has experience in immigration law if a role with your company poses questions about an employee’s immigration status.
  • Keep records of visa applications and sponsorship details. Making sure your paperwork is accurate from the start will save you many headaches down the road if your company is audited or contacted by relevant authorities.

Visa Renewal and Compliance Monitoring:

  • Be ready to help your employees with visa renewals or extensions. Sometimes visa applications and renewals come with tough-to-read fine print with loopholes that can be easily overlooked but pose serious consequences. By showing that you’re invested in making sure their visas stay up-to-date, your workers will look to you as a trusted boss who values them and the trajectories of their careers.
  • Regularly monitor compliance with immigration regulations to avoid legal issues.

Consult with Legal and HR Experts:

  • Consider seeking legal advice and HR expertise to navigate the complexities of international hiring and immigration laws. If you’re not sure where to start, we have several EOR UK and international labour law resources on the Borderless website. This can be a great early exploration point if you’re beginning your international hiring efforts in the UK.

Hiring global employees can be a valuable strategy to address labour shortages, but you should always make sure to do so in a compliant and ethical manner. Stay informed about changes in immigration policies and regulations that may affect your hiring processes.

On top of learning from other countries, UK-based employers should engage with international organizations, global industry or professional associations, and academia to stay updated on global trends and best practices in tech talent development. Adaptability and a willingness to innovate in response to changing circumstances will be crucial in effectively addressing the tech talent shortage.

Make sure to brush up on international news sources that relate to the labour market. You may find opportunities with countries that have talent surpluses in the sectors you’re looking to hire from. Trade publications relating to your sector can be a good way to keep the pulse of the industries you’re having trouble hiring for.

Remember, the job market — like any market — ebbs and flows over time. Although you may be facing a shortage of talent now, be wary of making drastic changes to your organization without doing some serious research. Making drastic hires or job cuts in a volatile market can put your company in a difficult position down the road.

How Can Borderless Help?

No matter what kind of talent you’re looking for, an experienced professional employer organization (PEO) like Borderless can help companies hire, onboard and pay compliantly from 170+ countries.

Book a demo with us today to see how we can help your UK-based company not only fill vacant roles but fill them with the best candidates on the market.


Disclaimer: Borderless does not provide legal services or legal advice to anyone. This includes customers, contractors, employees, partners, and the general public. We are not lawyers or paralegals. Please read our full disclaimer here.


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