The UK’s brain drain to Silicon Valley is unintentional, says government report
Tue 4 Oct 2016
The UK’s Government Office For Science has released a fascinating preliminary report regarding ‘The future of work in an ageing population’, comprising the findings of experts who in June convened to discuss one of the hottest political topics around. Among its findings, many of which are (for a government report) uncharacteristically apocalyptic in nature, is the suggestion that UK workers sent to Silicon Valley for training to meet the country’s chronic shortfall in tech talent end up beguiled enough to jump ship; and that this is a common occurrence.
The report reads:
‘It was noted that there is a huge global skills shortage in technology, with many workers in the UK being sent to Silicon Valley for training and not returning.’
The report, which disclaims its initial findings as not peer-reviewed or conclusive in nature, also notes the increasingly ‘bimodal’ nature of the UK labour market, which is said to tend towards ‘a small number of high-skilled, high paid jobs and a large number of low-skilled, low paid jobs.’
The paper reflects surprisingly left-of-centre viewpoints about where the country’s current political will and legislation is taking the nature of the workforce, declaring ‘There will be a change in the balance of power: workers will be in a weaker negotiating position with weaker terms of work, and the balance of power is projected to shift towards the employer. This will lead to increasing risk for workers.’
There is additionally noted the increasing contrast between the lower and higher ends of the labour markets in terms of staff churn. At the lower end, the ‘McJob’, criticised elsewhere in the paper, is accepted as a business reality:
‘Many parts of the labour market expect a high turnover and are set up for this, with a business model based on ‘substitutability’. It’s not clear whether this will have positive or negative impacts for SMEs.’
But higher up the food chain, there is churn where employers do not want it, as white collar workers disdain to enter the traditionally exhaustive lifestyle of the high-end executive:
‘[The] example was given of a partnership in a law firm no longer being people’s end goal because of the perceived all-consuming lifestyle that accompanies it. Their challenge is now to recruit and retain sufficient numbers of the younger people they rely on and they may end up keeping more older workers.’
At the same time the report acknowledges the problem of ageism and age discrimination in the workplace, bouncing between contradictory problems which are quite dazzling in their scope: on the one hand there is an anticipated shortfall in younger people who will be ready to take up an estimated 14.5 million new UK jobs by 2022 – and on the other, the dynamics of lower starting salaries are impelling companies to eject older and more experienced workers as a model business template.
The report paints a vision of a completely schizoid feudal future in which the average worker (of either gender) enjoys a butterfly-like 15 years of prominence and workplace favour before the mines start to thicken up around their feet; partly for cultural, and partly for economic reasons.
Elsewhere the preliminary report assigns, in part, the increase of co-working and home working in the UK to appalling workplace environments, asserting that workplaces ‘clearly need to be reorganised in a way that promotes serendipity.’
One contributor to the talks behind the report suggests a certification system for soft skills. Effectively this means that CV buzzwords such as ‘team player’ and ‘highly motivated’ would be quantified and graded for an individual, from school age onwards. But the report also observed that recruiters ‘ignore people’s qualifications and look for intellect and integrity instead.’
Another suggestion offered is that school children receive training in the real-world labour market, and taught to consider areas they would not traditionally experience, ‘so they don’t get locked into a life trajectory too early.’
Unsurprisingly, workers under 35 tend to change jobs frequently, while those older seek more security in their roles – but it is not clear whether the current millennial workers will fall into the same behaviour or seek to retain their career flexibility into their 40s and beyond.
Finally, the report emphasises the need for ‘unlearning’ redundant skills instead of wasting acumen in trying to extend a particular career trajectory that may not be valid any longer.