Ditch “low-skilled” label for SME & public sector work post-Brexit, APPG report recommends

The APPG on Migration has recommended the government take a “new approach” to so-called ‘low-skilled work’ after a landmark report found that many roles with British SMEs and the public sector, particularly in the care sector, will be hard to fill after EU freedom of movement ends in the UK.

The report, Brexit: beyond the highly skilled – the needs of other economic stakeholders, examines the impact that ending freedom of movement between the UK and the EU will have on small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) and the public sector in the UK.

It found that many jobs currently considered ’low-skilled’ are heavily reliant on EU workers and that the ‘low-skilled’ label will make them very difficult to fill after Britain leaves the EU. Classifying roles as ‘low-skilled’ makes it almost impossible for business and the public sector to recruit overseas workers under the existing points based system (PBS). Evidence taken by the inquiry finds that the label of ‘low-skilled’ also creates a negative image of the jobs among British workers, discouraging them from applying.

However, the report finds that many so-called ‘low skilled’ roles require a high-degree of technical knowledge and skill. Jobs considered by the government to be ‘low-skilled’ include dental technicians, health and safety officers and air traffic controllers.

The report recommends that the government reconsider this label and undertake a positive public relations exercise improving the image of jobs currently classified as ‘low-skilled’ among British workers. Alongside this, the report calls for a review of the barriers preventing British workers taking up these roles now. It also recommends the government pushes apprenticeships as a tool for upskilling the domestic workforce, across all ages.

The APPG took evidence from representatives in social care, business, legal work, manufacturing, trade unions, NGOs and food production sectors. Organisations which submitted evidence included BlueBird Care, EEF, EY, Global Future, London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the TUC.

Other recommendations made by the report include:

  • The government should review and possibly expand the UK shortage occupation list to reflect the scarcity of certain skillsets post-Brexit more accurately;
  • Where there are acute labour shortages, the government should consider a sectoral visa scheme;
  • The government should conduct an in-depth review of the PBS. Any proposals to extend the PBS to apply to EU migration should take into account the needs of the UK economy as well as the incentives of migrant workers;
  • The government should provide clarity on post-Brexit EU migration to provide reassurance to EU citizens in Britain and their families and employers;
  • Any transition period should allow employers to ‘phase in’ the changes;
  • Proposals for a regional visa system should be widely consulted on across the UK, made simple and non-bureaucratic and be designed to address local fluctuations in salary or vacancy needs.

Commenting, Kate Green OBE, Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston and co-chair of the APPG, said:

“Leaving the EU is going to bring wholesale change to how Britain manages migration from Europe. It’s important the government designs a system that works for British SMEs and for the people that staff them.

“Doing down valuable SME work by labelling it ‘low-skilled’ is patronising, out of touch and outdated. It risks cutting us off from overseas talent and discourages British workers from applying for crucial jobs that require skill and talent.

“The government should ditch the label. We need a new approach, one which recognises the value these jobs bring to Britain and the new context we’ll be operating in after we leave the EU.”

Lord Teverson (Liberal Democrats), co-chair of the APPG, said:

“The government should listen to the voice of British businesses. SMEs make up 60% of all private sector employment in the UK. They are the powerhouse of the British economy.

“After we leave the EU, we need an immigration system that provides them with the talent they need to continue to thrive. That’s no small task but upskilling British workers and making sure we have access to overseas talent will be a good start.”