Professional qualifications bill makes hiring more complex, experts warn

12 Jul 2021 By Caitlin Powell

Confusion over legislation has caused both professions and regulators to be left out as commentators say the bill requires ‘further thinking’

Business groups and other experts have called on the government to revise draft legislation for recognising the qualifications of foreign professionals post Brexit, warning that the current version could cause problems for firms that are recruiting.

The professional qualifications bill was introduced to allow skilled professionals from across the world to have their qualifications recognised in the UK, with regulators given autonomy to assess those qualifications and seek reciprocal deals.

The legislation was introduced to replace the EU regime for recognising the qualifications of professionals coming to work in the area with a new post-Brexit system for the UK.

When the bill was announced, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the legislation was “vital” to ensuring skilled professionals had their qualifications recognised in the UK, “allowing us to attract the brightest and best as we build back better.”

“These laws will not only bolster the UK’s standing as a great place to work and trade, but will strengthen our union by creating a clearer framework for recognising professional qualifications that meets the skills needs of each part of the UK”, he added.

But, dozens of professions and regulators have reportedly been left out of the bill, with some even unsure about which professions they are meant to regulate. Lord Gerry Grimstone, investment minister, admitted that the government’s management of the legislative detail was “not good enough” and that he felt “uncomfortable” listening to criticism of it.

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Speaking to People Management, Paul Holcroft, managing director of Croner, said that if done well, the bill could help employers recruit the “brightest talent” from around the world as they recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

But, said Holcroft, it could also “add more complex procedures” for employers already struggling to get to grips with the points-based immmigration system introduced at the start of this year. Depending on how detailed forthcoming government guidance on the new rules was, employers “may need to find ways of verifying that the foreign qualifications are up to the standards they are looking for,” he said.

With many sectors already seeing skills shortages, speeding up mutual recognition of qualifications will be an important step in allowing employers to recruit professional talent from abroad, said Shazia Ejaz, director of campaigns at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation. But, the confusion around which professions and regulators were included in the bill demonstrated the need for “further thinking”.

A better understanding of different requirements of the regulators “can only be achieved with more dialogue with the regulators and others before the bill is completed”, she explained. “This will ensure that employers have access to the skills they need, and also help to maintain high professional standards in these regulated sectors."

However, Donna Gibb, head of HR for commercial at Ellis Whittam and Law At Work, said that the bill “returns autonomy to regulators” and would allow them to put their own arrangements in place.

She also added that, with a UK shortage of qualified professionals, the bill could give the UK regulators the power to make mutual recognition agreements with their counterparts in other countries across the world in order to recruit international talent to fill the skills gap.

But, with more than 160 professionals regulated by a network of more than 50 regulators, Gibb warned that “this multiplicity of regulators results in confusion and complication” at a time UK industry was “suffering from the loss of skills and qualifications and is highly dependent on international talent.”

“It is unclear if a particular qualification is recognised by just one supervisory body, will there be a requirement for others to recognise too?  Will there be a watering down of standards given the pressure of skills shortages? Will there be a hierarchy of professional bodies?”, she said. “This bill could further complicate recruitment for those sectors dependent on international talent to fill their skills gap.”

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