Blog: Brexit exodus – ‘EU workers have left and aren’t returning…we’ve never seen anything like this in 20 years’ – Business Live

Recruiters say they have watched the number of available workers dry up because of restrictions on free movement imposed under the UK Government’s Brexit plans.

One said they had seen nothing like it in two decades, while another said some sectors were suffering more than others.

Nationally there has already been a big shortage of HGV drivers – partly due to European drivers heading home during the pandemic and now feeling that Brexit will make their return harder.

Earlier this month the founder of Homeserve, Richard Harpin, warned a shortage of skilled trade workers had developed as European Union migrants left the UK, with things looking bad in construction and other trades.

The recruitment sector is now saying things are looking tougher when it comes to filling temporary and permanent positions.

Ed Vigars is operations director at Encore Personnel, which was launched in Leicester in 2001 and now has 10 branches and 22 managed services sites, and employs more than 200 staff directly.

The £77 million turnover agency places 4,000 workers each week in the industrial, driving, energy, engineering, manufacturing, managed services and professional services sectors.

Mr Vigars said customers had been hit hard by Brexit and it had worked round the clock to ensure its EU staff and candidates had settled status or an application in place before the July 1 deadline.

He said despite the fact that 95 per cent of its EU workers’ settled status applications were progressing or approved, the big problem of net migration persisted.

He said: “Primarily the number of workers coming and staying in Britain is the main challenge alongside the rush to get settled status for those who want to remain working here.

“Our biggest clients have relied on us to regularly check that their workers’ settled status applications have progressed and been approved.

“This has caused an increase in workload towards the deadline to ensure we’ve ticked every box and checked every detail for every worker.

“While this mammoth change in legislation has sent ripples through our industry and supply chains throughout the country, the issue of net migration is still the biggest hurdle.

“EU workers have left and aren’t returning.

“We’ve seen a 10 per cent decline in the number of EU workers coming to the UK this year compared to last.

“We used to see an influx of students coming to the UK in the summer for work – this hasn’t happened this year due to a combination of Brexit and Covid-19 travel restrictions.

“A prime example is that of a vegetable packing customer where 60 per cent of its work force has said they’re leaving.

The concept of a points-based system to attract workers to the UK is great, but the fact remains that we need people who want to do the jobs like picking potatoes, packing the boxes and driving the lorries.

Ed Vigars, operations director at Encore Personnel

“It isn’t an exodus quite yet, because we’re filling roles for our customers and we will continue to thanks to our excellent recruitment specialists and our robust network of contacts and candidates.

“However, I’ve never seen anything like this before in the 20 years I’ve worked in recruitment.

“The amount of unfulfilled roles coming to us is truly shocking – illustrated starkly to us by how several of our competitors have asked us for support in filling jobs. This has never happened before on this scale.

“The economy hasn’t shrunk, it has changed and evolved and we as a country need to move with these changes in order to maintain the levels of productivity and growth that we’ve come to expect in the 21st century.

“Investing in training, staff well-being and development and retention programmes is key, but so is finding a workable model for getting unskilled workers to fulfil roles, and the UK is a long way from that sort of stable flow of labour in this rocky post-Brexit period – highlighted on the government’s guidance to immigration points system which states: ‘There is no general route for employers to recruit at or near the minimum wage’.”

Eileen Richards MBE

Leicester-based ER Recruitment works with business across the East Midlands.

Managing director Eileen Richards MBE, who is also this year’s president of the East Midlands Chamber, said: “There are obviously a number of big external forces currently at play.

“Latest ONS data shows around 5 per cent of the UK workforce remains on some kind of furlough and that continues to distort the market.

“On a couple of occasions I have been on a call with the Bank of England or the chamber’s Covid response meeting and people have been talking about the recruitment challenge.

“But it’s important to remember that such forces are providing opportunities as well.

“Some sectors are viewing their market as having a Brexit-related labour shortage. This is the case in some areas, such as logistics.

“ONS data shows that almost a fifth of transportation and storage businesses were not trading in early July.

“Meanwhile, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation has estimated that there is a shortfall of 30,000 lorry drivers in the UK.

“However, other sectors are emerging from the pandemic positively. We are working with businesses which have grown exponentially during the last 12 months.

“This means that new roles are being created and the best companies want the best people to fill them. What’s more, they are prepared to pay to get the outcome they want.

“That candidate-driven market is providing an opportunity for candidates to be more selective about where they apply.

“The best job-seekers are not staying on the market for long. Recruiters don’t currently have the luxury of processes lasting weeks or months.

“It means that this is a logical time for them to reconsider how they present themselves during recruitment and on-boarding.”

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