Post-Brexit immigration system must allow for EU workers of all skill levels
There is insufficient volume of UK nationals willing and able to fill the low-skill roles currently done by EU nationals, and changing recruitment strategies and automation won’t be able to compensate for this, says a new report from the Recruitment & Employment Confederation called Ready, Willing and Able?
Can the UK labour force meet demand after Brexit? Although EU nationals make up 7 per cent of the UK labour market overall they account for 15 per cent of workers in low-skilled roles (elementary occupations). EU nationals are also concentrated in certain sectors, with 33 per cent in food manufacturing, 18 per cent in warehousing and logistics and 14 per cent in hospitality.
With record high employment already, recruiters warn that it will be impossible to replace EU workers with British substitutes. Some British jobseekers will be overqualified to perform low-skill roles, while others will be unable to do physically demanding roles because of pre-existing conditions.
Employers also warn against over-estimating the extent to which automation is a solution to reduced access to EU labour. Some tasks are still too complex to be automated and even for jobs where it might be possible, full automation will be too expensive an investment for SMEs.
The REC is recommending that:
- There should be no blanket salary threshold for EU migrants wishing to work in the UK after the UK leaves the EU.
- Provisions for both temporary workers, and a seasonal workers scheme, must be included in any new immigration system.
- Employers should be allowed to recruit from the EU for any role that cannot be filled domestically.
- In its planning for future workforce needs, the government should not overestimate the potential for either automation or UK nationals to fill the labour gap caused by a reduction in EU migration.
REC chief executive Kevin Green says:
“Low-skilled work is too often talked about as if it’s not vital to our economy, but we need people to pick fruit and veg, sort and pack deliveries to supermarkets, and to cook and serve food once it reaches hotels, school canteens, and restaurants. “Employers in these sectors are already talking about downscaling, closing or moving operations overseas if they can’t get people to fill jobs post-Brexit. “The government needs to engage with business and ensure that any new immigration system is agile, pragmatic and based on a proper understanding of labour market data.”
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