Make the first move

Last May, the European Union floodgates opened amid much media hype, but the expected hordes of willing workers from the new accession states never materialised. Now it seems that employers interested in recruiting staff from central Europe will have to make the first move.

Norrie Sinclair, chief executive of recruitment consultancy CVO Group, says: “We read so often about the huge skills shortages, yet I am surprised how few companies are sourcing from these markets. Perhaps UK firms think about it, but don’t know how to put the wheels in motion.”

According to Sinclair, employers should not hold back. “The people who make the move are likely to be very dedicated. They tend to be malleable, very keen to learn and willing to listen to the employer about how to develop themselves,” he says.


One company that has successfully taken the plunge is transport firm First Group, which employs 35,000 people in the UK. In the past year, the company has recruited 259 bus drivers and engineers from Poland, and plans to take on a further 1,200 staff in the next 12 months, casting its net wider to include the Czech Republic.

First Group HR director, John McLeish, says: “The UK transport sector has a real issue in terms of the number of people wanting to be bus drivers, with staff turnover at around 29% on average. However, we have experienced a great deal of success in recruiting from Poland, with zero turnover among recruits.”

Sinclair says a high proportion of workers from the new accession states are well qualified and willing to work hard. “There is a tremendous emphasis in these countries on continuing education. Many candidates have trained with the local branches of multinationals and are very dedicated,” he says.

But employers expecting to merely place an advertisement and attract heaps of suitable candidates are likely to be disappointed. They need to plan their recruitment strategies and fine tune the package on offer just as they would to woo UK recruits.

Simon McLoughlin, director of recruitment agency TCS, which helps companies recruit from the accession states, says: “Many employers thought they would be able to take their pick from virgin markets, but that is not the case.

“A new seam has been opened, but employers need to mine it carefully so they are not perceived as being exploitative.”

Sinclair adds: “There has been an assumption that these states will be a source of cheap labour and this is sometimes the case in construction, lower-grade clerical posts and healthcare. But for young, experienced professionals, employers cannot just assume that if they offer a job with a UK salary, people will jump at it. They need to offer something more, such as training and development.”

McLoughlin advises employers not to rely on agencies, but to go to the countries and run events in targeted towns. “They need to go to the country to sell brand UK as a good place to work, [promoting] the particular area of the UK and the lifestyle to people who might be highly skilled and are looking at moving lock, stock and barrel, perhaps with a family, to a place that is alien to them,” he says.

Graduate target

This has been the approach adopted by tax and audit firm KPMG, which was identified as one of the top employers that accession states graduates would like to work for in a 2004 study by recruitment agency RSCG Riley.

Following the success of a ‘toe-dipping exercise last year, KPMG is stepping up graduate recruitment in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic in 2005.

Keith Dugdale, director of recruitment and resourcing at KPMG, says: “Our experience is that if you target the business and economic schools in Eastern Europe, you can tap into an incredibly rich stream of academically-qualified candidates.

“I was staggered by the quality and rigour of education systems in this area, even compared to the best universities in the UK. It is very much like the British education system of 40 years ago,” he says.

KPMG recruited eight graduates in 2004 and is hoping to recruit another 20 this year. It has been working closely with local offices in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, gathering information on which career fairs to attend and making presentations with local practices. It is learning which schools to target and is advertising in student magazines. At career fairs, it makes itself available for interviews, and invites successful candidates back to the UK for assessments.

McLeish says that for First Group, apart from filling vacancies, there have been other spin-offs. “Recruiting different kinds of people has given the whole workforce a bit of a buzz, and the trade unions love it because they have people who want to work, who are enjoying the experience and taking some of the pressure off,” he says.

Last year, the firm ran a pilot bus driver training scheme with a local firm in Krakow in Poland. It is now working with recruitment companies Dunross in the Czech Republic and Grafton in Poland, and is looking to set up a full language and driver training school in these countries.
“It makes sense to do part of the training there,” says McLeish. “We’re not just targeting the unemployed, some people might be working and might want to gradually train to work for us in the long-term.”

Skills challenge

Getting to grips with how to recognise which qualifications and skills are valid can be a major challenge. Some sectors, such as the medical profession, are working on automatic recognition of qualifications, while for others it remains a tortuous process. Employers should draw on local knowledge, either of their own operations or from locally-based agencies.

Another challenge for companies is grasping the differences in culture. According to international labour mobility consultancy European Labour Mobility, each country has distinct ways of doing business.

The Czechs, for example, are used to a formal business approach, with top management making most decisions. The Estonians, it says, are very punctual, and mix business and pleasure. The Hungarians tend to approach foreigners with some caution, as do the Latvians. In Lithuania, employees tend to be individually focused and are not used to working in teams.

The Poles tend not to voice their opinions in a direct manner, while the Slovakians are used to decisions being made at the top, and employees are unaccustomed to having the power to make even small decisions. They also need time to get to know and trust people. Like the Lithuanians, Slovenian employees are not used to working in teams. They tend to be formal people, with an emphasis on following etiquette rules.

KPMG runs cross-cultural training programmes, using ex-KPMG staff to talk to interviewers about the kind of issues they should consider.
“Looking at how cultural norms affect how people act in a group exercise, for example, has been an interesting challenge,” says Dugdale.
Another lesson KPMG has learned is to be very explicit about requirements in recruitment adverts. Last year, it rejected a “significant percentage” of applicants whose main reason for applying was to learn English.

Offering support and training to recruits, both in their country of origin and on arrival, is also important.

Joel Tait, sales and marketing consultant at Dunross, says: “Working abroad is a daunting prospect for some people. It always helps the relationship when the employer understands that the overseas worker will be looking to save money. It is when companies think they can pay 70% of the wages they normally pay that things go wrong.”

Sinclair says: “Many employers come forward with what they think is a good package, but it isn’t. They need to be thinking about assistance with relocation and travel expenses, and accommodation for the first three to six months.”

First Group offers English language training to its recruits and help with accommodation and administration, such as sorting out driving licences.

Bupa induction

At healthcare provider Bupa, a seven-day induction programme is currently being trialled in Liverpool and Cheshire nursing homes for care assistants recruited from accession states. The firm uses the European Commission’s employment service, Eures.

Under Bupa’s induction programme, recruits stay with a ‘buddy’ – someone already working in the care home – for a week and agree to only speak English while at work. The programme covers essential skills, as well as advice on administrative and HR issues, such as how to set up a bank account and get a GP.

Go to ‘Flood of migrant workers turns out to be a trickle’ for more information on recruiting workers from EU accession states and verifying their qualifications

Tips for recruiting from the new accession states

The Czech Republic: Candidates are not widely accustomed to Western Europe-style CV formats and tend to go into a lot of detail about what and where they have studied

Estonia: Use national and local job advertisements and Estonian jobsites to find suitable candidates. Estonians are very familiar with using online application forms

Latvia: The amount of CV databases and jobsites is growing tremendously, which is the best way to find suitable candidates

Lithuania: State institution the Lithuanian Labour Exchange (www.ldb.It) offers free services to recruiters. Candidates are used to employers valuing good academic background, linguistic and computer skills and business awareness

Poland: Place advertisements in national newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza’s well-read job supplement, which has many advertisements in English

Slovakia: For senior and managerial posi-tions, use a Slovak or international recruit-ment agency with a local branch office

Slovenia: As one of the most successful countries in making the transition to a market economy, candidates are accustomed to Western Europe-style application procedures and salaries

Source: European Labour Mobility

Which countries for which skills?

  • Czech Republic – automotive, hospitality, aircraft building, engineering
  • Estonia – software development, IT, research and development
  • Hungary – call centres, outsourced manufacturing, hospitality, engineering
  • Latvia – wood manufacturing and export
  • Poland – engineering, manufacturing, healthcare (including nurses,
    doctors and pharmacists), bus drivers, accountancy
  • Slovakia – automotive

Sources include: CVO Group, TCS Media, Dunross, RSCG Riley

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