British workers at Pret a Manger are almost as rare as hen’s teeth. The company recently revealed that just one in fifty of the job applications that it receives are from British people.
The coffee and sandwich chain is perhaps the most extreme example of businesses relying on migrant workers, but it is hardly alone. EU migrants consist of one third of workers in food manufacturing, one fifth of domestic personnel and one eighth of workers in agriculture, textiles and warehousing work. Approximately 15 per cent of the games development workforce originates from other EU countries.
With the advent of Brexit, the ability of UK employers to recruit EU workers is almost certainly going to be restricted. So, what is to be done?
Firstly, if the Government restricts the flow of unskilled EU workers into the UK, then it should still permit employers to recruit highly skilled EU workers (Tier 1 and Tier 2 workers). Skilled EU workers can help reduce skill shortages, ameliorate skill gaps, enhance productivity and facilitate knowledge transfer.
Secondly, UK employers will need to source, hire and train more indigenous employees. In some sectors, employers may need to engage more closely with FE colleges and universities to inform course content and ensure that the right skills are being taught.
Thirdly, businesses will typically need to invest more in physical assets and manage their teams more effectively to maximise worker productivity.
These are big challenges that businesses, sectors and the UK has to get right. Otherwise the chickens will come home to roost.