Galvanizers wanted: Post-Brexit worker shortages weigh on UK employers

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  • UK businesses unable to hire low-wage EU workers after Brexit
  • Better salaries, benefits and training offered to attract local staff
  • Most skilled work visas are granted to non-EU applicants
  • UK healthcare jobs are a big draw for non-EU workers
  • Most newly registered UK doctors are qualified outside the UK or EU

TELFORD, England, July 4 (Reuters) – British manufacturing firm Corbetts the Galvanizers relied on a stream of Polish and Romanian workers to fill its workshop, where steel is plunged into a long vat of molten zinc at freezing temperatures. about 450°C (842°F).

But post-Brexit and COVID-19, he’s resorting to everything from 500-pound ($602) severance bonuses to free fish and chips to attract local workers who avoid the often grueling work.

Labor shortages in Britain and the pressure they are putting on wages are a major concern for employers and for the Bank of England as it tries to contain the biggest surge in inflation in 40 years.

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However, while there are losers, there are also winners from the upheaval of immigration rules following Britain’s departure from the European Union, which halted the free movement of workers in the bloc after 2020.

Last year saw a record influx of foreign doctors, and more work visas were issued to Zimbabweans than to the French.

Corbetts, located in Telford in central England, close to the cradle of the industrial revolution, is typical of companies that are rethinking their recruitment practices today.

Galvanizing staff typically earn less than the £25,600 a year typically required for an employer to sponsor a visa.

Before Brexit, the 162-year-old company could count on migrant workers – mostly Polish or Romanian – recruited mainly by word of mouth.

But over the past year, finding staff has become a challenge, according to chief executive Sophie Williams.

“It’s scorching hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter, and it can get very dirty, dusty and a little smoky. It’s not everyone’s job,” she said.

Williams employs 52 galvanizers and wants to recruit 40 more before reopening a second facility that has been mothballed during the pandemic.

Its Telford plant currently galvanizes 35,000 tonnes of steel a year in all shapes and sizes – from lampposts to horse trailer frames. This means that automation is not an option.

To attract and retain staff as Britain’s unemployment rate is at its lowest since 1974 and cost of living pressures are driving up private sector wages, Corbetts has offered a range of incentives.

As well as £500 for new hires who stay for six months – a bonus extended to existing staff – workers received £100 to mark Queen Elizabeth’s 70 years on the throne, chocolate Easter eggs, gift vouchers supermarket at Christmas and occasional perks such as free fish and chips.

He also recently raised his minimum starting rate of pay by 6.4% to at least £9.84 an hour.

The company is more flexible about who it hires, including workers under 21 who team up with an older employee, and its first female galvanist.

A new, longer-term program aimed at improving staff retention will sponsor workers to learn skills to operate cranes, forklifts and delivery trucks, and ultimately external management training.

Mike Fiddler, 27, who lost his construction job during the pandemic, now works in the Corbetts delivery yard while training to become a truck driver.

“It’s a lot faster, it’s a lot dirtier, a lot more convenient. But it’s fun,” Fiddler said.

However, Williams remains unsure whether she can find enough staff to expand the business, which is targeting £13million in sales by 2022.

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WIDESPREAD SHORTAGES

UK employers had a record 1.3 million vacancies in the three months to the end of May, or 4.3 per 100 jobs, a similar picture to Germany. Vacancy rates are even higher in the Netherlands, Belgium and the United States.

However, Britain’s vacancy rate is much higher than the overall EU average of 2.9.

With official data showing 188,000 fewer European workers in Britain than two years ago, businesses are in doubt that Brexit is partly to blame.

“The barriers to entry in terms of employers hiring in Europe are now much higher,” said Neil Carberry, chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation.

Sectors that once relied heavily on EU workers – such as construction, cleaning and hospitality – saw the biggest shortages and fastest pay rises between 2019 and 2021, research from the recruitment site finds Indeed. Read more

Conversely, it is now easier for workers from outside the EU to settle in Britain, as employers no longer have to prove that they had no UK applicants or qualified Europeans. Over the past two years, the number of non-EU workers in Britain has increased by 220,000.

In the year to the end of March, Britain issued 182,153 skilled work visas, almost half of them to Indian nationals. The top five countries for skilled work visas were all outside the EU.

The 5,549 skilled work visas for Zimbabweans – five times more than two years ago – exceeded the 5,239 work permits, skilled and otherwise, granted to French nationals.

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HEALTHY DEMAND

Computer, professional and financial services companies are among the most common sponsors of work visas.

But Britain’s growing reliance on foreigners to provide health care and social services is another factor in the rise in the number of non-EU migrant workers, said economist Jack Kennedy.

More non-EU medical graduates registered to practice as doctors in Britain last year than UK and EU medical graduates combined, according to figures from Britain’s General Medical Council.

Overall, around 10% of interest in UK roles in health and social care comes from overseas, up from less than 2% in 2019.

“That’s higher, much higher, than what we’ve seen in any EU country,” Kennedy said.

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Reporting by David Milliken Editing by William Schomberg and Catherine Evans

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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