Skills, skills and more skills. Few people would argue that for the UK to thrive in the 21st century it needs a highly skilled workforce. The question is, where will those workers come from?
That question is especially relevant to companies operating in engineering and technology sectors, where putting up an ad in the local job centre at the minimum wage is not an option. They need the right people with the right background and the right skills.
Sometimes, those people will come from outside the region of the UK in which the company is based, from elsewhere in the EU or from another continent altogether. The important things is that the company gets the skilled employees it needs to succeed.
So far so uncontroversial. Except it isn’t. There is no hotter political potato than immigration, and the issue is back on the agenda with confirmation from the government that a new points-based system for working in the UK will come into effect next year.
According to ministers, the system will provided a simplified and more effective way to match those allowed into the UK with demand for skilled employees that cannot be met internally.
The announcement of a government initiative on immigration just before local council elections may well be designed to help the political fortunes of the Labour Party, but the government needs to be extremely careful in this area.
The final say on what does and does not count as a genuine gap in skills will be made by the Home Office, or at least a body set up to decide on its behalf.
But the best people to judge whether or not there is a skills gap are the people doing the hiring. In an increasingly globalised high-technology economy, denying people the chance to work here is a risky strategy for the UK. Attracting the best people from around the world is a sure-fire way to help the UK develop international centres of excellence in technology-based industries. Nothing the government does should get in the way of that process.