Economically speaking, the news is great. Britain’s burgeoning economy seems to go from strength to strength and the country is probably as near to full employment as it will ever be. But there is a catch – the enormous demand in some sectors is creating a skills shortage.
The situation facing Britain’s HR directors and managers seems to be similar to the one facing some football clubs: the only place to turn to find suitable talent is abroad. Research by the Recruitment Confidence Index shows that nearly 20 per cent of UK organisations expect employment growth in non-UK citizens in the next six months.
Statistics suggest UK companies are not looking for manual workers, with 8 per cent of companies employing non-UK citizens at board level and 16 per cent employing foreign talent at senior management level.
Lower management echelons seem to be least well served by home-grown talent with 18 per cent of companies employing non-UK middle managers and 23 per cent employing non-UK junior managers. Nearly one in seven organisations has actively recruited internationally during the past six months and almost half the organisations surveyed currently employ non-UK citizens.
Dr Jos Van Ommeren, senior research fellow at Cranfield University’s School of Management, believes the UK’s skills shortage was created by the rapidly expanding economy. “The situation is that the economy is doing rather well and has created a skills shortage in certain areas,” he said.
“I think this is a long-term situation – the labour market is becoming more global and it is easier to travel.
“If you look back to the beginning of the century, immigration was at about the lowest level it has ever been”, Van Ommeren said. “But the number of people coming from abroad is much higher now and is set to increase.”
Skewed labour market
Jason Cartwright, international recruitment manager at TMP worldwide, said the HR function is central to attracting employees from overseas.
“HR plays a crucial role in recruiting overseas – it is up to HR to find a recruitment strategy, a good remuneration package, training and progression policies and, above all, a good working culture to attract people,” he said.
“The service sector is the area worst hit by the skills shortage – in particular areas such as banking and accountancy. The main problem is we simply don’t have enough managers. This is because today’s managers are the graduates of nine to 10 years ago. When this particular set of graduates left university the country was in the middle of one of the worst recessions since the war and could only find jobs as taxi drivers.
“This has caused the labour market to become somewhat skewed and that is why we need to look abroad to fill these jobs.”
Cartwright claimed the Internet was not necessarily the best place to advertise for overseas recruits because the company would be swamped by unsuitable applicants.
Van Ommeren has investigated to see whether non-UK staff are likely to leave companies to return to their native countries. “The perception is that non-UK employees have a higher turnover – but I have not seen any evidence of this from research I have done myself. But this does not mean this is not true,” he said.
“Most staff are actually recruited in the UK as they come here as students. The alternative way is that you go to another country and convince people to come to your country to work. The thing to be aware of is that recruitment in other countries can be quite different from in the UK.”
The inflexible British
Dr Aysen Broadfield, HR director for Mattel Northern Europe, makes a strong business case for recruiting overseas – but says companies must be prepared to be flexible to enjoy the benefits. “UK candidates are very much aware of the skills shortage”, she said, “and their demands on employment conditions need to be met. This is creating a lot of inequities in benefits and working conditions in organisations.”
Broadfield believes that recruiting abroad solves two problems: the skills shortage and the inflexible demands of British staff who feel they can name their price.
She said the main issue when recruiting from abroad is to ensure candidates are educationally and culturally compatible with the organisation.
“Cultural compatibility ensures that non-UK candidates can easily adapt to the life in the UK and can socialise easily. This appears to be a very important factor in retaining employees. Educational compatibility ensures employees can work together in the organisation as the educational approach determines the nature of thinking and work discipline.
“Effective teamwork also appears to be crucial for employee retention. Therefore, recruiters should check these two factors to filter out unsuitable recruiting locations.
Further training and education still seems to be a motivating factor when sponsored by the company. Additional benefits like housing, cars, facilities for other family members as part of the package seems to make life easier and also make non-UK staff loyal to the organisation.
Many large organisations are working with relocation consultancies to make life easier for non-UK newcomers. These costs can easily be absorbed within the package of the candidate.”
Broadfield called on HR departments in the UK to ensure their companies are prepared to compete in a global market.
“The skills set required for such transfers is very different and requires streetwise rather than traditional thinking,” said Broadfield.
“Management has to be able to understand the implications and they should be able to manage a global team. It all comes down to having a global skills set, attitude and understanding.”