New ‘office for talent’ will attract skills from abroad, says government

Business secretary launches R&D roadmap to entice scientists and researchers from overseas, as report warns of the need to retrain British workers

The government is to create an ‘office for talent’ as part of a bid to make the UK a more attractive destination for highly skilled individuals from abroad.

Part of the government’s Research and Development Roadmap, launched by business secretary Alok Sharma (pictured) yesterday (1 July), the new body will work with businesses and research institutions, such as UK Research and Innovation, to make it easier for individual researchers and scientists to move to the UK.

Sharma said that as part of the roadmap, the government would work with businesses and research institutions to develop policies to attract and retain science and engineering talent from overseas. This would start by expanding the global talent visa – launched earlier this year – to allow scientists and researchers to apply to move to the UK before securing a job.

The government said it also planned to use the roadmap to attract British talent that had moved abroad back to the UK.

“The R&D Roadmap sets out our plan to attract global talent, cut unnecessary red tape and ensure our best minds get the support they need to solve the biggest challenges of our time,” Sharma said.

The announcement was welcomed by Jason Fowler, HR director at Fujitsu UK&I, who said it was “hugely promising” to see the government prioritise innovation.

But, Fowler added: “If we’re to see organisations fully embrace and unlock the opportunities that are available thanks to the likes of automation and other emerging technologies, collaboration between technology organisations, central government and education institutions will be key.

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“All must come together to ensure the country is properly prepared and equipped with the right knowledge and skills,” he said.

The announcement came as a report warned that the UK needed major investment in domestic skills to avoid large-scale unemployment as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

In its report, Recovery and resilience, City & Guilds Group said new job postings had fallen by 30 per cent between February and May this year, at a time when unemployment was rising. It said lower-skilled and lower-salaried industries were seeing the biggest decline.

The report, which surveyed 2,000 working and non-working adults in the UK, said it was these lower-skilled workers who were least likely to be able to afford the retraining they would need to get back into work. It said a third (33 per cent) of individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds could not afford training, with 26 per cent unaware of how to access funding to pay for a course. This rose to 59 per cent and 43 per cent respectively among the unemployed.

In the report, City & Guilds Group called for the government to reallocate £3bn of unspent money in the National Skills Fund to support “post-Covid reskilling”. It also called for the criteria for the adult education budget to be expanded to offer support for “bite-sized, online and flexible learning to quickly retrain people back into work”.

Kirstie Donnelly, CEO of City & Guilds Group, warned that, if left unchecked, mass unemployment caused by coronavirus would “scar the futures of a generation”.

“We are calling on the government to urgently redirect existing skills funding to ensure that the budgets set aside for further education are being allocated in the right way, with the right focus to support skills development that promotes social mobility,” Donnelly said. “There is no more time to consult, we have both the means to make this happen and the evidence to prove how much it is needed.”