Stride’s speech to ‘Put Brits First’ just one initiative to solve worker shortages

In a major speech to business leaders today [21 May 2024], work and pensions secretary Mel Stride (pictured) has hailed the “huge opportunity” to fill vacancies with unemployed Brits.

This is as tighter visa rules restrict businesses’ reliance on overseas labour and are starting to bring down legal migration, according to Stride.

Speaking at a Jobcentre in central London, Stride announced a major new advertising campaign encouraging employers struggling with staffing shortages to tap into the specialist services and solutions their local Jobcentre can offer.

Alongside the campaign, the Department of Work and Pensions is leading a new cross-government ministerial group set up to develop new recruitment schemes in industries facing staffing shortages.

Responding to Stride’s ‘Put Brits First’ initiative, Kate Shoesmith, REC deputy CEO, said: “I have yet to meet a British employer that doesn’t want to invest in their talent pipeline and support job opportunities for local people. It shouldn’t be about picking winners or employing British workers over foreigners. It is about creating the right conditions for long-term, sustainable economic growth – and that starts by creating the right conditions for the UK labour market. We need calm and coherence across skills, health, transport, infrastructure, childcare, devolution and, yes, immigration policy.

“After all, our ‘Overcoming Shortages’ report shows a labour market restricted by skills shortages, could cost the economy anywhere between £30bn and £39bn per year. This figure is just short of building two whole Elizabeth Lines every year.”

The government taskforce identified by Stride, which has already met, will seek to emulate ‘HGV driver shortage style’ initiatives, which helped to fill vacancies in the sector through solutions developed with employers including targeted skills ‘bootcamps’, Jobcentre training schemes and cutting red tape holding back domestic recruitment.

The expert group, including Home Office and Treasury ministers, will work directly with employers to implement changes that will unlock the domestic labour supply and boost skills among UK jobseekers, targeting extra help to key sectors including hospitality, care, construction and manufacturing, Stride said.

The drive will include the roll-out of AI work coach tools in Jobcentres across the UK to support the cross-government mission. 

The AI tools also are intended to help modernise the benefits system and improve outcomes for claimants.

The AI tool, called a-cubed, can trawl thousands of pieces of guidance to instantly arm a work coach with information on the best support to help their claimant into work quicker, a task that otherwise can take hours. This is part of ambitious plans to develop AI across the DWP.

Today’s move comes as the Prime Minister announced a package of welfare reforms building on the government’s £2.5bn Back to Work Plan, which is hoped to help over a million people to find and stay in work.

The BBC reported that shadow work and pensions secretary Alison McGovern accused the government of “running down our skills and training system”.

McGovern told the BBC: “We now have record levels of net migration. They should be putting in place proper plans to tackle worker shortages and adopting Labour’s plans to connect the immigration system to skills.”

Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokeswoman, Wendy Chamberlain, said: “In many ways this is an admission that the Conservatives have no plan to tackle the biggest reason that people are unable to work, which is that NHS waiting lists are through the roof.

“Thousands are struggling to access the healthcare they need, meaning people are unable to go back to work.

“We will only get the economy back fighting fit by fixing the health crisis,” she added.

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