UK workers poised to flee the country?

A survey has suggested that millions of employees would happily move abroad if it meant a better job. So our skills gap could be set to widen.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2012
Plenty of us are adamant that life without bastions of Britishness like the Today programme, Marmite or a decent cup of tea wouldn’t be worth living – but it seems all that’s forgotten in a trice if it means advancing up the career ladder. Or that’s what a new survey suggests, anyway: the GfK International Employee Study found that 27% – or 7.6m – of the nation’s workers would happily leave the country if that’s the only way they could improve their job prospects.

What’s interesting about the survey, which spoke to about 30,000 workers in 29 countries, is that the more educated you are, the more enamoured you are likely to be with the idea of moving abroad for the sake of your career. Thus, while just under a quarter of people who were only educated to secondary school level are interested in looking internationally for new jobs, about a third of those with degrees and just under 40% of those with postgraduate degrees say they’d do it. That said, there isn’t much of a class divide: 27% of blue collar workers and 26% of white collar workers say they’d move countries to find a better job.  

What’s worrying for UK businesses, though, is that 38% of the workers who said they’d be willing to move abroad are already looking – which could mean a mass exodus of workers with vital skills from the UK over the next few months. And with inflation still high and many businesses unable to boost salaries, that number is only likely to increase over the next few months. On top of a Government cap on the number of immigrants coming in, that could spell disaster for the UK’s ever-widening skills deficit. That said, in the absence of any past figures, it’s not entirely clear whether all this is as a direct result of the downturn – or whether people would have been happy to go abroad anyway.

Still – at least things aren’t as bad for us as they are in Mexico, where almost 60% of workers say they want to get out. At the other end of the scale is Belgium, where just 19% of workers said they’d move abroad for work. Which is surprising: if we lived in a land-locked country whose most famous inventions are chips and EU regulations, we’d be pretty keen to move elsewhere…

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