Priests have long been adept at coaxing new recruits into the fold, but their talents are being used more literally in Poland, where the exodus of workers is beginning to hamper the nation’s own economic growth.
The radical plan may itself prove flawed, as not even the clergy are safe from this Westward migration, with Scotland now poaching Polish Catholic priests.
Since 2004, Britain’s workforce has been fed by a steady army of new recruits from Eastern Europe, with almost 600,000 migrants from the new accession states successfully taking up employment here.
More than a million Poles are estimated to have left their country, tempted to Britain by the promise of higher wages and an economy desperately short of numbers and skills.
UK employers, including Tesco and First Group transport, are attracted to EU migrants, particularly Poles, as they possess a strong work ethic and good language skills at a time when recruitment difficulties are at their most severe.
However, the phenomenon has now reached such proportions that employers in Poland are starting to struggle to retain their staff, and are looking at a range of new strategies to help fill the gaps.
Even the nation’s president, Lech Kaczynski, admitted that employers in Poland were now struggling to find skilled professionals, and urged some of his countrymen to return home.
Martin Oxley, chief executive officer of the British Polish Chamber of Commerce, says the demand for staff in the UK is as strong as ever. He concedes that the numbers leaving Poland have become so large that Polish employers are developing tactics to woo back some of the exiles.
“In certain sectors, Polish employers are struggling to recruit staff, but it’s more a question of retraining and redeploying people,” he says. “They’re coping with this exodus in a number of ways – mainly through large training and re-orientation programmes.”
He argues that unemployment in the country is still running at around 14.8%, which rises to as much as 40% in some rural areas, so there are plenty of candidates to fill the gaps.
James Strickland, a director at UK recruitment firm Omega Resource Group, operates an office in Poland that finds staff for British companies.
Although he dismisses the scale of the problem facing Polish businesses, he has started working for some local clients and acts on behalf of some employers trying to entice workers back to the country.
“Poland still has huge levels of unemployment, and they are still producing around 250,000 university graduates every year,” he says. “Most will return eventually and will have improved levels of skills and experience.”
However, the Polish Labour Ministry is so concerned that it has opened up the domestic jobs market to workers from all EU countries, as well as some other non-EU states, such as Ukraine and Belarus.
The Institute for Public Affairs has also mounted a major campaign to encourage workers to return, entitled Wyjazdy i Powroty, or Go and Come Back. The campaign uses a website to try and encourage workers to maintain closer links with their home country.
Earlier this year, officials from one city in the south of Poland came to Britain in a bid to lure back some of their compatriots with a poster and leaflet campaign around London.
It was designed to appeal to patriotism by urging people to forgo higher wages to help build the country’s future.
Tom Hadley, director of external relations at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, warns that the statistics can be misleading, as they only measure the people who are coming into Britain, and not those who are leaving.
“Even though unemployment has risen again here [in the UK], there’s still a strong demand, but I do think it will stabilise eventually. There’s no legal or moral argument to prevent UK employers from continuing to recruit Poles,” he says.
Whatever the political situation, freedom of movement is one of the basic tenants of EU membership. So the merry-go-round of staff which sees Polish doctors in London and Ukrainian builders in Warsaw will continue for as long as the UK’s job market remains so tight.