EU workers to Britain's rescue

UK companies are increasingly relying on foreign workers to help them alleviate the country's skills shortage. High on their list are workers from Eastern Europe, way ahead of western Europe or India.

by Emilie Filou, World Business
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

In fact, two-thirds of British businesses think that membership of the EU will help them fill the skills they need. So much for Euroscepticism.

The findings, published in a study led by Vedior, one of the world's largest recruitment companies, were discussed at a seminar at Cass Business School, London on June 20. They reveal a deepening sense of crisis about the skills shortage of the country, particularly in the manufacturing sector, but a growing desire to tackle the problem.

Relying on foreign skills was one welcome option, particularly in the light of the attitude of other western markets. Eastern Europe came first (24% of businesses), followed by France (9%) and Germany (8%). "It is encouraging that UK employers are taking an open approach to the immigration of skilled workers," observed Zach Miles, CEO of Vedior. "This will put the UK economy at an advantage over the many continental countries that also face severe skills crises but have a far less positive approach to immigration."

Matthew Francis, HR manager at Perkins Engines, where more than a third of the workforce is Eastern European, pointed out that migrant workers often tended to be much harder working than British people. "Poles come to work to work. Our traditional British workers don't." Eastern Europeans also tended to fare better than native speakers in the English literacy tests that the company had carried out.

Jim Murphy, Minister of State for Employment and Welfare Reform said that Britain should look at why its citizens could not fill the vacancies. The problem he said, was three-fold: businesses had come a long way in family-friendly policies but still had a lot to do to cater for individuals' family needs and offering more flexible working options. Companies, he added, should also be more pro-active about getting people with disabilities involved in the workforce; finally, businesses should look inside for much of the solution to their problem: talent management and staff retention could go a long way in ensuring people stay and develop the right skills.

John Philpott, chief economist at CIPD, observed that 40% of people felt over-qualified for their job. "People have the skills but the problem is what they do with them within the workplace," he commented. "Fifty per cent of the productivity gap between the UK and the US can be explained by differences in skills, technology and capital investment." The rest he added, was down to talent management.

The worrying thought is what will happen if and when all the UK's Polish plumbers and French bankers head back to their country. Until they do, businesses will have to step up a gear to ensure home-grown talent does find its call in the economy.

A full copy of the Vedior report can be downloaded from www.vedior.com

By Emilie Filou

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