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How important is speaking English in the workplace?

Is it one rule for Piotr and another rule for Paul?

Multi cultural workforce

According to the Equal Opportunity Commission there are only two reasons that count for an exclusive English speaking rule:

  • The safe and effective performance of a job
  • The successful operation of the employers business

Both pretty subjective judgmental points and in reality common sense needs to prevail.

We know of companies undertaking similar activities that take differing views but to avoid problems the policy needs to be consistently applied and this is where many employers run into difficulty by being hypocritical and we suspect we are going to see another round of this soon in the UK as skills shortages continue to bite.

When skills shortages first occurred in the UK in 2004/5 employers were spoilt with the quality from Eastern Europe but the approaches taken fluctuated widely.

Many wanted the lowest cost and this meant workers with limited English and they were surprised to find a high degree of loyalty with workers staying in low paid jobs as they did not have the option to move around owing to their weak communication skills.

Others wanted good English, but low pay and the inevitable happened. Workers accepted positions to get into the country only to move on to better paid jobs within months. High turnover, poor productivity will occur. Employers need to stop blaming the workers or recruiters but instead to look at the root cause.

Some enlightened employers that wanted a good return on training and investment paid a fair market rate and could command good English with many growing their current management team from within the migrants employed.

History has a habit of repeating itself and here are our tips if you need to recruit:

  1. Make a decision on the level of English required. What is most important to you? A brilliant paint sprayer with poor English or a good English speaking paint sprayer with limited experience?
  2. Set up any standards you want applied. From a simple technical Skype interview to a full blown English test remembering the higher the hurdles the fewer will jump them. Most importantly apply them consistently and document everything.
  3. In setting pay rates try to get away from the minimum wage mentality. Paying the lowest legal wage is misguided. The staff won’t be happy. You will get high staff turnover + the hidden costs of constant training

We are fans of hard working labour wherever it comes from but it does seem as a generalisation that the work ethic in Eastern Europe is greater than in Western Europe and it is only natural that east to west migration will occur when local labour does not want to fill the 500,000 open positions currently available in the UK.



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