News | Published January 22 2020

Employers can do more to address staff shortfall posed by Brexit, according to recruitment specialist Human One

Before the 2016 referendum on EU membership, net migration from the bloc hit a peak of 219,000. This figure has been in steady decline ever since the British people voted to leave and has fuelled concerns of a Brexit associated skills shortfall, particularly with an Australian-style points based immigration system set to enter force once the Brexit transitional period has lapsed. Yet, recruitment specialists are still adapting to ride out the storm in their industry, and one in particular feels that industry and employers may have the answer to dealing with the staff shortage they fear.

Human One is a central London based recruitment specialist for the hospitality sector, which has been providing some of London’s most iconic restaurants, hotels, private clubs and bars with qualified and professional staff for decades. Managing director Amber Blount has witnessed the decline in EU net migration since 2016, which has been fuelled by a fall in EU arrivals for work purposes.

Official figures from the Office for National Statistics [ONS] in showed that net migration from the EU from June 2018 to June 2019 was at 48,000, after 151,000 EU citizens left the UK and 199,000 arrived in the country.

The figures point to a falling migrant labour workforce from Europe, and this is only set to intensify once the new points based immigration system comes in.

Blount believes that the UK’s impending departure from Europe is one cause for the decline, but stressed that the weaker pound and high cost of living in the capital city of London are also aggravating factors.

Speaking to The Parliamentary Review about her firm’s experiences, Blount said: “Until three years ago, working with Eastern European migrants had proved very effective for both us and our clients; however, the combination of Brexit, a weak pound and cost of living in London has made the UK, and London in particular, a less attractive prospect for economic migrants. 

“This has been a challenge for the recruitment business in general, and we are trying to work with organisations across the sector to find a solution that will be mutually beneficial for all involved.”

One solution which may spring to mind to address the shortage of staff would be to look closer to home and target young British people to enter the industry. However, there are issues with this also, as Blount discusses in more detail.

She explained: “Very few British people register for work in our sector so we are heavily reliant on labour from the EU and the rest of the world. We have found that historically, wages on offer do not match that which can be received through benefit claims, so we are working continuously with our clients to ensure better pay rates, benefits and conditions in order to attract a wider pool of staff.”

However, striving to improve salaries which will help address this issue, has proven troublesome.

Blount said: “It has been a struggle for us to improve the salaries on offer, but slowly the industry is beginning to recognise the need to offer competitive pay rates. We are working hard with a number of our clients, but this is a retrenched industry-wide issue that cannot be rectified overnight.

“There are also a number of less physically demanding roles available in supermarkets and coffee shops with higher pay rates, which makes these roles more attractive.”

Blount also feels that the allure of other European countries who can pay workers in a common currency and provide better working conditions, is currently a more lucrative option.

She said: “Other European countries, such as Italy and Germany, are becoming a more appealing location, because EU migrants can be paid in the same currency, experience better working conditions, enjoy cheaper living costs and receive better job security as a result of their continued membership of the EU.

“We understand the issues facing the sector are complex and require a considered approach, but we are working towards solving them, using our experience to inform our approach.”

However, despite a skills shortage affecting the hospitality sector and a wide range of other industries including Brexit, Blount believes that the solution can come from redressing the employer and employee balance within those industries, in order to entice more young British people to enter the field.

Elaborating on this, Blount said: “Numerous organisations throughout the UK, be they in the healthcare, construction or hospitality sector, have benefited from the influx of cheap labour into the UK. While they were still able to deliver high standards, organisations have taken advantage of the reduced labour costs in order to grow profit margins without rewarding their employees.

“We think it is time this balance is redressed and fortunately our clients recognise this.

“The market used to be employer driven, but the balance is now tipping in favour of the employees. Employers used to see employees as disposable, safe in the knowledge that there was a continual supply of cheap labour. They wouldn’t take time to on-board, train and build up goodwill with employees and this has led to a decrease in the quality of work.”

Blount recommends that employers engage more positively with their employees and provide an adequate level of pay, which she believes will not only improve working relationships but also bring down the rate of staff turnover.

She said: “If employers begin to engage with their employees, and pay them adequately for their services, we will rapidly see balance brought back to employer and employee working relationships, resulting in lower staff turnover, increased reliability and loyalty.”

Should employers within the hospitality industry take this on board, Blount believes it will culminate in lower turnover, but crucially increased productivity also. The same could be said for a number of other industries affected by the very same issues.

With the government’s Brexit strategy seemingly in place, industry can only adapt to the impending changes. The government can provide some assistance perhaps in helping reach out to younger people and make them aware of the opportunities particular industry sectors have to offer, but the onus is largely on employers to provide the incentives necessary to entice and then retain staff within the affected industries to ease their own concerns.

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Authored by

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
January 22 2020

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