8 December 2016 Feature

People power

Finding the right people for the right jobs is a challenge, but do businesses need to extend their search for staff beyond the UK? Business Voice asked employers from some of the country’s biggest sectors why they recruit from overseas


The independent healthcare sector employs tens of thousands of staff. “Around 11 per cent of all workers in the sector come from abroad, with services in London and the South East being particularly affected,” says NHS Partners Network chief executive David Hare.

“At present, insufficient staff - nurses, doctors and physiotherapists - are being trained and retained, putting unacceptable pressure on all healthcare workers and threatening the delivery of essential

Overseas workers bring invaluable experiences, which enrich our services and diversify the workforce

patient services. While it is recognised that more can be done across the health sector to promote employment and development opportunities to current staff and people within local communities, the immediate and pressing need for staff cannot be met from the domestically trained market.

“Overseas workers therefore provide a vital contribution to the independent health sector and help to fill the persistent shortages in the UK workforce, bringing invaluable experiences, which enrich our services, diversify the workforce and bring great skill and expertise to the sector which benefits both patients and the colleagues they work alongside.


Workers from overseas have been used in agriculture for more than 60 years because they are willing to undertake temporary and seasonal work, National Farmer’s Union (NFU) skills and employment adviser Lee Osborne explains.

“Access to a flexible and competent workforce is essential to British farming’s competitiveness. The horticulture industry alone needs around 80,000 seasonal workers to hand pick fruit and vegetable crops. This figure is expected to rise to 95,000 by 2021.

“If there aren’t enough people to pick the crops when harvest is underway, valuable food and crops could be left to rot in the fields. This could have devastating consequences for the public in terms of

Sourcing labour isn’t a problem limited to the fruit and vegetable sector

the availability of fresh British fruit and veg on supermarket shelves - and for the farming industry in terms of avoidable food waste and associated costs. This is why the NFU is asking the Government to urgently trial a Seasonal Agricultural Permit scheme in 2017 to access non-EU seasonal workers.

“Sourcing labour isn’t a problem limited to the fruit and vegetable sector. Food and farming - worth £108bn to the nation’s economy - also require access to a flexible and reliable permanent workforce, a significant proportion of which is currently made up of non-UK nationals. Livestock and poultry businesses require workers to process and pack meat and dairy farmers need workers with high levels of animal husbandry.”

Education and research

International university league tables place a heavy reliance on research quality. If universities are to compete successfully for students and research funding they need to recruit the best researchers, says University of Portsmouth vice-chancellor Graham Galbraith.

“The University of Portsmouth needs highly-skilled overseas staff in particular areas. So, while about 18 per cent of our staff are non-British, the distribution of non-British staff across the university is not even.

Particular academic disciplines such as languages have specific needs for overseas staff

“In the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation – the University of Portsmouth’s leading research area – there are more non-UK staff than UK staff. Overall, around 50 per cent of our research staff are non-British.

“Particular academic disciplines such as languages have specific needs for overseas staff. One-third of academic staff at The School of Languages and Area Studies are non-British.

“The ability to recruit high-quality overseas staff is essential if the University of Portsmouth is to flourish internationally and to offer a high-quality education and range of courses to our UK students.”

Unskilled labour

In the South West, unemployment is around 3 per cent and there is little access in rural areas to public transport, so recruitment is challenging, says Marshfield Bakeries managing director Chris Smith.

“Our business’s workforce has grown from just 18 four years ago to more than 60 people today. With

At a recent jobs fair we set up 16 interviews - but just one person turned up

continued high growth forecast for 2017-18, this lack of unskilled, available labour is the biggest challenge we face. We train our staff ourselves in the tasks they need to tackle each day and, where possible, develop their skills in the longer term.

“We have have been unable to fill six full-time roles for some six months now, so we take on agency labour which has a  knock-on impact on productivity; many agency staff work just a few days before moving on. At a recent jobs fair we set up 16 interviews - just one person turned up.

“We look to recruit the best colleagues, regardless of their country of origin. We employ a wide age-range, from 17 to 70-plus; more than one third are over 50. Around 75 per cent of our workforce are British citizens, with the remainder coming from all over Europe and further afield. We find that people who have taken the brave step of leaving their homes and families many miles away to look for a job are work-ready and highly motivated. Both our British colleagues and those drawn from the wider European community work well together, but we have already noted that there are fewer European-mainland workers available.”

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