Employers plug skills gap with migrants

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Companies are increasingly turning to immigrants to fill permanent vacancies for professional and technical staff, a survey published today will say.

More than three out of every four jobs offered to migrant workers is on a permanent basis, shattering the myth that migrants do mainly seasonal and short-term work.

The findings, by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), are the latest to highlight the problems that skills shortages in the UK are causing employers.

John Philpott, its chief economist, said: "Skills shortages are forcing employers overseas as they struggle to fill vacancies. This puts the heated political debate about immigration into perspective. If rules are tightened in an arbitrary way, employers in business and government could suffer."

The CIPD surveyed 1,500 large and small employers in both services and manufacturing and across the private, public and voluntary sectors. It found: more than one in four employers planned to recruit workers from abroad this autumn; among firms with more than 500 employers one in four planned to go overseas while, regionally, the biggest demand was in London; three quarters of employers offered migrant workers permanent contracts, with less than one in 10 offering short-term seasonal contracts; more than two-thirds of the demand was for staff with professional, technical or IT skills, with only 30 per cent falling into the "other" category.

Mr Philpott said: "The majority of employers are using migrant labour to fill vacancies requiring professional and technical skills [on] permanent contracts, against a common perception of low-skill, low-paid and casual jobs."

The survey found that the number of employers planning to recruit over the autumn was slightly weaker than in the spring and summer. However it said the labour market was still tight, with few businesses planning to make redundancies.

Nevertheless it said it did not expect a sudden surge in pay to tackle the problem. Nine out of 10 employers planning a pay review in the autumn expect a pay rise of between zero and 4 per cent.

Mr Philpott said: "It is encouraging that employers are confident they can keep a lid on inflationary pay pressures, despite a combination of limited supply and relatively high demand in the labour market."

Meanwhile the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) said the labour market was not as tight as the figures showed. Although the claimant count has fallen to a 29-year low of 830,000 and official employment and joblessness are at record levels, weak pay growth indicates the jobs market is not stretched. The CEBR said that with employment growth static, hours worked falling and economic inactivity rising, the labour market had reached a plateau.