The impression you get from some newspapers when it comes to the issue of migrant workers is that they’re flooding over here, taking our jobs and swamping our communities.
The reality, of course, is more complex. In February it was revealed that Tesco was hiring Polish workers to work in its stores and drive lorries because it could not fill vacancies.
Research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) has found almost one in three employers are planning to recruit workers from overseas. With the recent expansion of the European Union, more and more employers are looking to eastern Europe – with its pool of often skilled and educated, but also relatively cheap labour – to plug their vacancies.
The attraction is two-way, it appears, too. A poll by recruitment firm totaljobs.com has reported that 69% of its candidates from eastern Europe said the UK was where they wanted to work.
For HR professionals looking to tap into this market, the first practical issue to address, said totaljobs.com commercial director Keith Robinson, is simply how to locate people, as there is little in the way of recruitment infrastructure in the region.
“There are not hundreds of newspapers that carry recruitment ads. Then when you do find people you have to think about how you are going to set up interviews and assess them,” he said.
It can be a good idea to set up an office in the country you are targeting – not only will this give you eyes and ears on the ground but it will give you extra credibility with the local populace.
Alternatively, appointing a partner locally to source, channel and hire candidates can be a good idea, he suggested.
Once the worker is in the UK there are, of course, other issues. First, it’s vital to get the paperwork right.
It will also be important to address any educational needs. Is extra training required to do the job and is language training needed?
CIPD chief economist, John Philpott, said: “This can be the case if you are hiring someone for a front-line service delivery position.”
Even if the language and technical skills are already in place, it can be wise to offer cultural induction training and help with things such as accommodation, he said.
While the majority of eastern European workers tend to be young, single and mobile or older workers sending money home to families, some workers may require assistance for families or children, for instance in accessing school places.
“You do have to be a bit paternalistic,” agreed David Price, managing director of Anglo-Polish, a recruitment agency that specialises in hiring Polish workers for the construction industry.
Crucially, you may also need to spend time educating your domestic workforce, both on what to expect and why you have taken the decision to hire from abroad in the first place.
“Most workers we find are very welcoming of migrants, but there is still a vocal minority who are not. But the vast majority welcome the fact that they are hard working people who want to do a decent job for decent pay,” said Price.
In fact, one possible cloud on the horizon is what effect the increasingly bitter political battles over immigration, with each party trying to “out tough” the other, are likely to have on the UK’s traditionally welcoming and tolerant image among potential job seekers.
“A lot of the Polish media, for instance, are now warning people not to come over unless they already have work,” he said.