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The future of digital right to work: protecting our blue collar workers

  • Publish Date: Posted 10 days ago
  • Author: James Kenealey
After weeks of campaigning from lobbyists, the Government announced that digital right to work checks will be extended to April 2022.

The decision is a defining moment for all those who recognise that despite the obvious implications and challenges of the pandemic, there have been several beneficial changes to the world of work that should remain in place for the longer term. The step will also provide some reassurance to those who feared the change would be scrapped entirely.

The introduction of digital right to work checks meant that people from anywhere in the UK could apply for, essentially, any job in the country. Hiring teams and recruiters were armed with technology similar to what the Home Office has offered to grant overseas workers roles in the UK for several years, helping to remotely vet documents and conduct background checks on applicants.

The difference the expansion of digital right to work checks made during the pandemic was significant. Half a million people in the UK were able to secure a new job during Coronavirus lockdowns, thanks in large part to the scheme. Because the rise of home working meant there was no limit on the proximity of workers to their company HQ, businesses in demand could scale up their workforces quickly and easily, meaning the vital services required to keep the country safe – healthcare, facilities management, logistics – could deliver at pace. Plus, there was greater diligence in the verification process; case handlers were so engaged in the new and updated practice that they were even more scrupulous when conducting their checks.

The Government is yet to confirm whether the scheme will be extended – and be made permanent – beyond April next year. Not taking this step would be damaging for the wealth of industries that are integral to rebuilding the UK economy.

Removing digital right to work processes will, in an instant, limit millions of UK workers’ ability to work on site for their employer, giving advantage to those who are able to work remotely, from abroad. What will quickly emerge is a huge disparity in accessibility to work between overseas white collar workers, and blue collar workers in the UK who’ll face obstacles when it comes to finding work. Instead of being able to share their documents with employers and recruiters online, they’ll only be able to apply for jobs they’re in easy reach of, to minimise stress during the onboarding process.

Just as we’ve begun to feel the enormous benefits of eradicating the burden of local-only employment, opening companies up to the niche skillsets of workers based at opposite ends of the country for the very first time, we’ll transport them right back to the days of pre-pandemic red tape.

Countries all over Europe eradicated this outdated practice years ago; digital right to work checks are the norm and have been for a long time. Why, when we’ve been able to ensure entire industries are able to maintain normal – if not increased – levels of operations, during the most challenging economic and social period in a generation, would we step backwards?

The hope is that work is already ongoing to create a longer term, more sustainable solution around verifying identity that would prevent us from ever having to revert back to the historic, manual processes that none of us – recruiter, client and candidates alike – have missed. The way we have been empowered to work in the last 18 months has instilled greater confidence in the industry and has enabled us to provide booming markets with access to great candidates, much more quickly than ever before. The entire vetting process is simply smoother and more efficient, meaning clients can promise to meet demand for their services and products much quicker, and has minimised the risk of fraudulent applicants making their way into the UK labour market.

Our role is to match our clients with the best possible talent available to them – and having digital right to work checks expanded to UK nationals has better enabled that at a time when many thought it would be impossible to mobilise entire industries.

Now, our focus will be on ensuring that the Government takes heed of the benefits this has for the UK and encouraging it to make the change permanent. Doing so will be the best way to ensure the country continues to bounce back from the difficulties businesses across the country have faced with employing relevant talent, which has been a challenge for decades before the pandemic was even a consideration.

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