Navigating challenges: Addressing skills shortages in Scotland's marine economy
Scotland’s marine economy has long been a cornerstone of the nation’s identity and economic prosperity. From fisheries and aquaculture to maritime transport and renewable energy, the marine sector plays a pivotal role in sustaining livelihoods and driving innovation.
Given the diverse landscape of Scotland’s marine economy, the sector demands a unique set of skills, making it crucial for the workforce to be well-equipped and adaptable to the evolving nature of the marine economy.
Despite the abundance of opportunities within the marine economy, there is a noticeable gap between the demand for skilled labour and the available workforce. There are various factors contributing to this challenge, including the impact of Brexit on the labour market. The Scottish Government has highlighted the impact leaving the EU has had on the seafood industry, stating that the end of freedom of movement has contributed to an estimated 20-25% of vacancies being unfilled throughout the seafood industry and potentially worsening population decline in coastal and island communities.
Innovation is another factor. The rapid evolution of technology within the marine industry will require adaptation to new tools and methodologies, including how to move the current fleet of vessels towards electrification and greener technology. With many of the existing fleet unsuitable for retrofitting, investment in new fleets will be needed, together with the relevant expertise, investment and forward planning to deliver such large-scale projects.
Having the right skills within the resident workforce will be key to meeting these challenges head-on. The current skills gap in the labour market was highlighted in a recent review undertaken by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC). The MAC is an independent public body providing evidence-based advice to the UK government on migration issues. Its recent review, published on 3 October 2023, focused on the Shortage Occupation List (SOL), a list of occupations facing a shortage of skilled workers in the UK and therefore eligible for visa sponsorship under the Skilled Worker visa route. Jobs on the SOL also benefit from some more favourable migration conditions such as reduced salary thresholds and visa fees. Amongst the MAC’s findings was a recommendation to add a number of occupations within the marine economy to the SOL, including fishing boat masters and boat and shipbuilders and repairers, roles that will be key to the modernisation of the existing fleet.
These recent recommendations by the MAC add to the already recognised shortage of occupations within the sector, such as deckhands on large fishing vessels, trawler skippers and share fishermen. This indicates that international recruitment and visa sponsorship of overseas workers may provide a solution in overcoming current skills shortages within Scotland’s marine economy.
Obtaining a sponsor licence with UK Visas and Immigration (‘UKVI’) is often the first step in the process of employing foreign national workers and allows businesses to access a wider pool of workers and thus remain competitive in a tight jobs market. To qualify for sponsorship, sponsored roles must meet specific skill and salary thresholds. Typically, eligible positions require a minimum skill level of RQF level 3 (equivalent to A-level). The minimum salary for a role is generally the higher of £26,200 per year, the role’s “going rate,” or £10.75 per hour, although there are exceptions to these salary levels, including a 20% reduction on the ‘going rate’ for jobs on the SOL. Furthermore, visa applicants need to meet an English language requirement, demonstrating they are able to speak, read, write and listen to level B1 of the Common European Framework for Reference of Languages.
Sponsored workers can be issued a work visa on the skilled worker route for up to five years at a time, and their work visas are linked to their sponsored employment which can act as an incentive for an employee to remain with an employer. After a period of five years of residence in the UK as a skilled worker, the worker can apply to remain in the UK on a permanent basis.
Taking advantage of the support offered by the UK’s immigration system can assist organisations in filling current vacancies, whilst planning for the future and working towards longer terms solutions such as investment in education and training so experienced professionals can pass on their expertise to the next generation, ensuring a seamless transfer of knowledge to meet the evolving needs of the sector.
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