Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

U.K. Skills Gap Becoming ‘Chasm’ as Immigration Debate Heats Up

  • Businesses struggling to recruit tech specialists: Hays report
  • Lawmakers must reconcile gap with anti-immigration sentiment

The shortage of skilled workers in the U.K. has widened for the fifth year in a row, adding fuel to a hot-button issue as Britain’s Brexit vote pressures the government to cut immigration.

The 2016 Hays Global Skills Index showed that the gap for the U.K. rose to 6.2 points from 6.1 points a year earlier as the country failed to train or attract enough technology specialists and engineers. A figure of more than 5 indicates tightness in the market.

The report, published Wednesday by London-based recruitment firm Hays in collaboration with advisory firm Oxford Economics, said the problem was exacerbating the U.K.’s “dismally low productivity levels.” At the same time, more than half of the country’s university graduates work in jobs that don’t require degrees, reflecting a mismatch between qualifications and employer demand.

“What was previously a worrying skills gap is fast becoming a skills chasm,” Hays Chief Executive Officer Alistair Cox said. “We simply cannot ignore this issue because of wider political sensitivities around mass immigration.”

Many U.K. employers rely on migrants from other EU countries, but the government of Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged to reduce immigration, a key demand of the campaign to leave the bloc.

A report Wednesday from think tank Migration Watch U.K. said cutting migration of highly skilled workers from the EU to 30,000 a year would meet business needs. The British Chambers of Commerce, which represents businesses, has said losing any EU workers would worsen the skills shortage.

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