Is pausing the work permit system the key to addressing the skills gap for Isle of Man Scaleups?

Across the Isle of Man, businesses are concerned about the skills shortage in many areas needed for the economy to recover post-covid. And, I don’t think it will come as a shock to anyone reading this that many of the skills needed by startups and scaleups to grow are in particularly high demand.

The government have made a number of legislative changes and proposals over the past five years to address the skills gap, including changes to the existing visa and work permit system to make it easier for intercompany transfers and create a shortage workers list that better serves the needs of the Island’s economy and not just mirroring the UK Governments list.

What is a work permit pause?

However, amongst potential mooted solutions set out by the Manx Government, we could see a temporary stop on all work permits – meaning that it would be even easier for companies to hire staff from outside of the Island.

The department of Enterprise has entered a period of consultation on the pause and a subsequent streamlining of the system that will provide ‘instant confirmation to the employer and applicant’ on their eligibility which will remain valid for five years.

This would give companies more flexibility in recruiting talent for shortage areas from outside of the Isle of Man.

Why a pause could help

This is a positive step by the government to address an issue having real-world effects on the competitiveness of companies recruiting in an increasingly global marketplace.

You only have to spend some time looking at the UK Government’s approach post-Brexit to see why increasing friction for workers can exacerbate staff shortages across whole areas of an economy. Last year the UK government took steps of its own to try and attract more tech talent to support the UK scaleup sector with a new tier of visa. But with the take-up of these new visas low, it’s safe to say any friction is worse than no friction.

So, the recognition that change is needed is definitely a step forward. For a scaleup, knowing you have access to talent across the UK or Europe without needing to worry about sponsorship or jumping through vast amounts of bureaucracy means less wastage throughout the whole recruitment process. If you have confidence that the Developer you just hired from Manchester is actually going to be able to take the job, decision-making speeds up; there’s no ‘umming and aahing’ about leaving adverts up ‘just in case.’ The whole process is sleeker and costs less.

So, that all sounds good, no?

Yes, startups and scaleups stand to benefit as much as any other area of the economy when it comes to a work permit pause. However, it’s not a silver bullet…

While worry-free access to a wider talent pool makes hiring those niche skill sets easier, the fact is that many of these countries are experiencing acute talent shortages in these areas too. That means you’ll be entering into an even fiercer market to attract top talent.

How to compete for talent

So what should you be doing to make sure you can compete and secure top tech talent? Firstly, examine and improve your employer branding.

Look at how you can address a global workforce – are you selling the benefits for employees to choose a life on the Isle of Man? Are you hedging off potential concerns, say from a candidate in Manchester worried that the average house price on the Isle of Man is nearly £30,000 more than his home town during a cost of living crisis? Professional videos and pictures of happy teams will only get you so far when it comes to relocating employees. To really get ahead of the competition, the devil is really in the details.

Look at your company benefits – can you offer relocation assistance of some kind or some form of settlement assistance? The answer, as a startup, maybe a simple ‘no’, but examining what it makes might give you a better idea of how to assist employees without investing directly in relocation services, like providing lists of houses and schools to offered candidates.

Fixing talent gaps with imported workers will never be as straightforward and cost-effective as finding local talent – as a rapidly scaling company, it’s unlikely you will benefit from the government’s investment in skills for school leavers, but offering better flexible working arrangements opens up a door to local talent that may have been overlooked or ruled themselves out for a whole number of reasons from semi-retirement (see job shares) to caring duties (flexible or condensed hours) and even the neurodivergent (remote working options).

Final thoughts

While it looks like the proposed pause on work permits could be a great opportunity for scaleups, it’s not a silver bullet in itself. Making the most of the opportunity requires you to be prepared to compete in a larger market that’s just as fiercely competitive.

Whatever steps you take to make sure you are ready, we recommend having a strong and strategic internal recruitment team to guide you through. If you have traditionally handled recruitment with the sole help of 3rd party agencies and a handful of spreadsheets, bringing in at least one dedicated in-house recruiter to take a strategic view of your future hiring and implement processes and improvements will be invaluable as you cast your net wider for talent.

We provide agile and strategic in-house recruitment services to private equity and private equity-backed scaleups, startups and carve-outs. We specialise in building recruitment processes that are able to scale as you do while delivering niche and hard-to-find talent.

Don’t think you are ready for a full-time in-house recruiter? We offer support on a ‘per day’ basis, so you’ll have an agreed number of days of support each month that can flex as you grow.   Contact us today and find out how we can help your scaleup hire that critical talent, wherever they may be.

Find out how our recruitment projects can transform your internal recruitment capabilities and keep your scale-up growing as planned.