This week’s letters

Unskilled immigrants are true
backbone of Britain

John Philpott raises
some very important points in his HR viewpoint professional agenda (Personnel
Today, 27 July). He is, indeed, correct in identifying that skilled immigrants
are the key to the future success of UK plc. However, I was a little surprised
to see him so dismissive of the contribution made by ‘unskilled immigrants.’

In my work as an immigration adviser, I am finding that companies
increasingly need lower-skilled workers to ‘do those jobs the locals are
unwilling to do’.

Across the hospitality sector approximately 80 per cent of staff are from overseas, including
waiters, cleaners, kitchen assistants and more. These are positions that
‘resident workers’ seem not to want to fill on any terms.

It is not uncommon for me to have to justify to the Home Office why a
jobcentre referred 50 people to a hotel for one vacancy as a housekeeper, yet
not one of the applicants was seriously looking for work.

Employers find that these jobseekers are unwilling to do menial work, and if
taken on do a poor job without enthusiasm. Contrast this with a young student
from Eastern Europe or India
who wishes to get some work experience, improve their English and is happy to
do whatever is required. Is it any wonder employers are seeking to fill
‘unskilled’ positions with people from overseas?

Other industry sectors would also suffer without lower skilled labour from
overseas. Our farmers rely on seasonal labour to harvest fruit and other crops,
pubs and bars rely on Antipodeans on working holidays, and shops, petrol stations
and many others rely on working students.

While John Philpott is
undoubtedly correct that skilled workers contribute more to the UK
than they take out, I contest that many companies would struggle to survive
without the lower-skilled, transient workforce who fill the ‘unskilled’
vacancies. In fact, the Home Office has recognised this and now offers a work
permit for lower-skilled work in certain industry sectors.

It is perhaps not surprising that last year’s quota was reached two months
early. These people are not entitled to bring their family to the UK
and are therefore not a burden on our schools. And as
they normally reside in company accommodation, they have a minimal impact on
housing and transport.

Ian Westwood, Director, The Westwood Organisation

International talent awaiting your

It is such a pity that employers are not more aware of how easily they could
address the current shortage of qualified staff currently affecting businesses
in the UK.

There is a large untapped pool of international candidates available to
work, but employers generally appear unaware of how to go about recruiting
them. It is usually red tape that is quoted as the greatest inhibitor and the
most confusing aspect of recruiting international staff.

As a recruitment consultancy in this candidate driven marketplace, we are
regularly on the receiving end of desperate pleas for skilled candidates.

While the cost of attracting and keeping workers who are not party to the
same working rules as UK
citizens are common concerns, realistically these risks are no greater than
employing someone from the UK.

We commissioned research which revealed that, contrary to the favourable
factors of warmer weather and increased daylight hours, productivity in the
workplace decreases dramatically in the summer – 60 per cent of employees plan
to take a break of a week or more. Added to this a massive 68 per cent admitted
dreaming about being on holiday while at work.

At the moment around 40,000 under 30s from around the Commonwealth apply
annually for the working holiday visa scheme, which gives people a two-year
visa to live and work in the UK.
The majority come from New Zealand,
Australia and South
Africa and it is this same group of people
whom we place into businesses every day.

Sourcing international candidates need not be as difficult as it is
sometimes perceived, and certainly it is nothing to shy away from. With a bit
of smarter thinking, HR managers can access a wealth of talent, save money on
the costs involved with employing a British national and, while their UK
employees might while away the time dreaming of sunnier climates, bosses can be
confident that their international staff
living their dream.

Carol Connolly, Director, Huntress Search

Macho management has no future in UK

After months of rumour, speculation and leaks, the impact of the Gershon review can now be
properly considered.

The Society of Personnel Officers in Government Services (Socpo) accepts the general trend
towards targeting available resources to frontline services. The modern
electronic age is creating opportunities for change and Gershon is surely only one step on a journey of
modernisation that will reshape the way all sectors of our economy do business.

Socpo supports Gordon
Brown’s reported intention to take a pragmatic approach to change in the public
sector. If handled properly now, the path will be cleared for further future
change. Handled badly, change could result in organisational shock, a loss of
morale, poor management/staff relationships and stress. All of these lead to a
loss of performance and an inevitable concentration on what is happening inside
the business rather than on what the organisation is there for – service

HR can help navigate the ‘white water’ and deliver change in a way that is
both sensible and sensitive. Socpo,
therefore, encourages realistic time frames and opportunities for retaining and
redeployment and allowing for as much natural turnover as possible. There may
be cases where people will have to leave, but if we work with them, communicate
what is happening and treat them properly we can help to soften the blow.

This is not wishy-washy HR people dressing the iron fist in a velvet glove, this is the voice of
experience. We have a strong desire to ensure that our organisations thrive
under change and think about the future, not just the moment. Macho management
in these circumstances sounds appealing to some, but has no life-span.

Alan Warner, President, Socpo

Legislation has key role in diversity

Is legislation the way to enforce workplace diversity? This was the question
posed on your news pages (Personnel Today, 13 July). I think legislation would
be an effective way forward even though it has had a limited effect over the
last four decades. Now that there is a higher level of consciousness of
diversity issues there is a deeper understanding of the business benefits
diversity brings. There is also more robust sanctioning for non-compliance.

While voluntary measures based on one’s moral grounding would be a much
healthier and a preferred option, business imperatives do seem to be the more
likely driver of such moves and, therefore, may not provide longevity.

I would not, however, condone the introduction of positive discrimination as
this not only sends out the wrong message, but is condescending and inherently

Patrick Brathwaite,
Policy development manager, HR Directorate Policy Unit, Metropolitan Police

Asda – a new breed of small business?

Having begged, bugged and harassed our Business Link agents out
of £2,750 training grant money this year, I was mortified to see that Asda received a whopping £500,000
from the LSC for an NVQ/Modern Apprenticeship scheme, as reported in your
article "Beyond the Spin" (Personnel Today, 29 June).

I was under the impression that Asda
was now part of the massive US Wal-Mart organisation. I have had to complete
countless forms to prove my organisation is an SME (small and medium-sized enterprises),
not part of a bigger organisation, etc, etc.

What’s going on? I thought the Government was screaming skill shortages and
advocating help for SMEs?

We have been told there is no money left in the pot for us (now I know why)
and to wait until next year to see if Business Link was going to draw up any
new contracts with the LSC. I understand that Asda generates huge revenue, but it doesn’t seem to
like putting its hands into its own pockets to train ‘valued’ staff. To my
organisation, training is a huge benefit to both staff and the business. Any
help towards the cost is greatly appreciated.

Debbie Vockins, HR
manager, Spellman High Voltage Electronics

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