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Why British Unemployment Will Remain High

Ian Duncan Smith’s plea to UK employers to use the British unemployed in preference to migrant workers is questionable on several counts and could be construed as illegal, impractical as well as unhelpful as UK industry attempts to tackle skills shortages as the economy stumbles forward.

Illegal – because of a mass of overarching European legislation giving all members of the European Union rights to work anywhere else in the European Union. The equality Act of 2010 reinforces existing legislation about colour, creed sexism and ageism and in our view preferring a British individual over say a Polish worker would be discriminatory all other things being equal.

Impractical – because why should employers take extra steps and efforts to use British “workers” when for the reasons discussed below so many are just not interested. A British employer like us, through our managed workforce programs, or our clients who prefer to employ directly have one primary concern when recruiting and that is getting the best person available into the positions available.

Unhelpful – Gordon Brown tried the “buy British” approach before but this is tackling the symptoms and not the disease and the decease which is a function of our political, social and industrial outlook or more correctly the lack of vision in these areas. Politically we have allowed our politicians to create an educational system that is not fit for purpose in that so many, after 11 years of formal education, emerge without basic skills in reading, writing and arithmetic and the inability to communicate at a basic level. The educational system does not, in many instances, produce a product that is wanted by the market place. Employers do not get away from blame entirely – governed by short termism coupled with the lack of political support for training we abandoned apprenticeships and cut in house training in the drive for extra profitability.

Whilst we are more than happy to use British workers it will be on a competitive basis and the workers have to earn the right to get a chance rather than being featherbedded into a position.

Here are the main issues:

  • The welfare system means many will find it unattractive to work. Yes, this administration intends to tackle this. It is a huge challenge but until such time as it is both an economic necessity and socially expected that working is an imperative we will have the welfare dependent amongst us. This is a huge issue.
  • Lack of mobility is a major hurdle. It is often easier to get a worker from Warsaw to work in Manchester than from Widnes or Warrington. If the government wants to promote employment then it needs to tackle this issue. Don’t you find it ironic that a Polish Worker is happy to upsticks and leave his/her family and friends and move a 1000 miles to a new job in a foreign country a Brit won’t travel 10 miles? Who would you prefer to employ?
  • Reliability- If it snows rains heavily or is a Bank holiday Polish Workers in the main will turn up on time for work and take unsocial hours in their stride as part of the package.
  • Flexibility – you have a surprise order that requires extra labour. Inform Polish Workers correctly and they will be there. Our issue is that they want to work 45-55 hours a week but often clients can’t get their British workforce to work alongside. This does lead to some issues that need careful management but through their actions Poles create opportunities for themselves to advance and most of our clients now have Polish workers in supervisory or management roles.
  • Productivity and Performance- This is wholly dependent on how they are managed but 20% increases are not unusual. This will not occur without the use of simple key performance indicators and effective straightforward communication but Polish workers like to be involved recognising that they are securing their jobs through making an effective contribution.
  • Polish workers are cheap and ares stealing our jobs! This is the biggest misconception I hear all the time. We advise all our clients to pay in excess of the Minimum National Wage and most do especially when they have enjoyed the productivity benefits. Most couple the basic pay with a modest productivity bonus linked to key performance indicators and those that make the workers welcome and follow advice have a more stable workforce. Those that choose to pay national minimum wage will inevitably see a higher turnover as they would with Brits as the job is seen as a stepping stone. I can’t resist adding that a Polish worker on £7.00 an hour and 20% more efficient is cheaper than an ineffective lazy British worker operating at 80% on minimum wage. You do the maths – it is eye opening.
  • Polish workers do all the crap jobs. Well this tells us a lot doesn’t it! In some ways it is true. In certain sectors like the food industry, care and warehousing they would grind to a halt were it not for migrant labour. Most of these now tend to come from Eastern Europe and this will increase through political actions reducing visa levels. It will also be inflationary as a migrant worker can chose to work anywhere they wish and will understandably look for the best terms and conditions. However don’t forget that Polish Workers are increasingly filling trade skills gaps in welding, fabrication, bench joinery and as skilled CNC operators and this will increase as it will be a decade at least before we are generating those skills within the UK.
  • The UK is not immune from global pressures and the higher skilled UK workers can see the opportunities to work elsewhere so we are seeing top quality engineers being snapped up by places like Australia and Canada that have massive skills shortages but stronger economies that the UK and as the UK recovers a shortage in Engineering is already evident and will get worse. A handful of more enlightened employers have started to bring in Polish engineers as they simply can’t find the skills locally and this will increase.

As someone who would like to help to put the Great back into Britain I would argue that the politicians need to put their own house in order first and then the market would deal with the supply of quality goods provided, whatever the ethnicity, but to ask the market to buy British for shoddy goods of inferior quality just isn’t going to work.

If Ian Duncan Smith would like some pointers on how to tackle the issues then he should create the one to one opportunity and speak to people at the coal face. He should start with the ineffectiveness of the job centres and all the quangos that continue to exist as ineffective support centres. Try asking some of the users what they think.

There is a better way but it needs Government to listen and to embrace bold and dramatic changes.

My phone is on but I don’t expect any calls!


Author: Chris Slay

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