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Investing in People

Burton-upon-Trent based Hobbycraft, an arts and craft chain, recently sprang to prominence by informing their Polish workers, start speaking English or face the sack.

The Company stated their reasons. If all employees communicate in English it will make for a better working atmosphere.

After discussing this matter at length with consultants from Skills Provision, the following points were raised:

A workforce that communicates in a common language would be beneficial to the smooth running of any organisation. There are also health and safety implications. However, the obligation to speak English in the workspace should have been made at the point of hire. To retrospectively move the goal posts after hiring overseas workers and obviously permitting them to communicate in their own language, is viewed as a poor managerial decision, added to this, the waters become murky when the word discrimination is mentioned.

Language barriers are looked at closely during our selection processes. Thankfully, by adhering to a strict system, we have not encountered issues similar, to those at Hobbycraft.

As the economy continues to improve more pressure is being applied to UK employers, in regards to the hiring of overseas workers. Maybe the time will return where employers are willing once again to adopt a more flexible approach. Indeed if they need workers they may have no choice. Ironically, Skills Provision find you get high loyalty and work performance from staff with a limited command of English.

Certainly UK companies large and small should not make the changes enforced by Hobbycraft without giving a period of grace and training support to help overcome language barriers. ‘Investing in people’ is the way forward at any time but never more so than when massive skills shortages exist.


Author: Chris Slay