Skills ‘boot camps’ to be offered – as minister says UK has relied on foreign workers ‘for too long’

Business

The government is set to offer “skills boot camps” in an attempt to get people on benefits back into work and to fill job roles previously held by foreign workers.

In a speech on Tuesday, Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride will promise job training for sectors experiencing shortages, such as social care, hospitality and construction, saying the UK has relied on foreign workers for “too long” and he is “determined to put that right”.

The announcement will come ahead of fresh net migration statistics due to be published on Thursday, showing how many people came to and left the UK in 2023.

The last time the statistics were published, the figure hit a record high of 745,000 in 2022 – leading to a backlash by MPs on the right of the Conservative Party who want to see the number lowered.

The government has announced a raft of new measures since to try to curb legal migration, including stopping students from bringing their dependents and increasing the salary someone has to earn to qualify for a visa.

But some in cabinet have raised concerns about the impact on UK university coffers, as well as on the workforce, with certain businesses unable to get the staff they need.

In his speech, Mr Stride will say he understands cutting the numbers will present a “recruitment challenge”, but he believes the government can build “a new economic model based on British talent”.

He will confirm a new cross-government ministerial taskforce has been set up to “develop recruitment initiatives” to get people into work – similar to the efforts made in 2021 to recruit more HGV drivers – and the move will come with the added benefit of “cutting the benefits bill”.

Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride arriving in Downing Street, London, for a Cabinet meeting. Picture date: Tuesday January 9, 2024. PA Photo. Photo credit should read: James Manning/PA Wire
Image:
Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride will promise to work with businesses to help them “overcome recruitment challenges”.


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The minister will add: “This is also a huge opportunity for the thousands of jobseekers within our domestic workforce to move into roles that have previously been filled by overseas workers.

“So my message to businesses is clear: our jobcentre teams stand ready to help you find the right candidate, and we want to work with you to overcome recruitment challenges.

“And my message is also to the British people. For too long we have relied on labour from abroad when there is great talent right here in the UK – I am determined to put that right.”

The plan got short shrift from Labour, with its acting shadow work and pensions secretary Alison McGovern saying: “After 14 years of Tory failure, Mel Stride cannot escape the Tory record on work.”

She added: “The Conservatives have run down our skills and training system. And 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, not setting up another talking shop.”

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