CIPD report suggests rise in share of low-skilled migrant labour from EU is not simply due to ‘work ethic’ or ‘skills’

CIPD report suggests rise in share of low-skilled migrant labour from EU is not simply due to ‘work ethic’ or ‘skills’……….

Warning that unintentional recruitment factors may be crowding out younger workers, with long-term implications for employers


A complex mix of largely unintentional factors means that some employers offering low-skilled work see migrants from elsewhere in the EU as more suitable for employment than UK born workers.  This is one of the conclusions of a new study published today by the CIPD, alongside policy recommendations and a warning that employers need to safeguard their long-term skills and talent mix by continuing to provide support and entry level opportunities for young job seekers.


The report, The State of Migration: Employing Migrant Workers, finds that better job specific or technical skills and work ethic, which for many employers means a willingness to work anti-social hours, are the two main reasons why some employers perceive EU migrant workers as better candidates for low skilled work than UK born workers.  However, their increasing share of employment may have been assisted by the practice of ‘job referrals’ (where employees recommend friends, relatives and other associates), and the role played by some recruitment consultancies.  Another factor was a perception of a relatively high turnover rate among UK-born workers.  On the latter point, employers report that migrant workers tend to set themselves a frame of reference that says “I’ll stick at this low-skill job for two to three years – it isn’t my long-term career plan” – something that means turnover is lower than for UK-born younger workers.


In contrast, ‘work ethic’ is not a strong factor in explaining why employers recruit non-EU migrant workers.   Against the backdrop of increasingly restrictive labour immigration channels for non-EEA nationals, their skills emerge as the overwhelming reason for hiring non-EU workers.


The report, based on a survey of 1,000 employers and 16 case studies, finds that, while there is insufficient evidence to conclude that employers are overtly favouring migrant workers, there are a number of factors contributing to a situation in which some employers find it easier and see a greater pay-off from taking on migrant workers.  The risk is that, as a result, UK born workers find it difficult to secure low-skilled entry-level positions and this can have long-term implications for their career development and for employers’ talent pipelines and workforce planning.


Gerwyn Davies, CIPD public policy adviser and author of the report, comments: “The question of whether immigration is restricting jobs for British workers needs to be re-framed to reflect the complex set of factors that have driven the rising share of migrant workers in employment in the UK over the past decade.  The slowing in the rate of this growth over the recent past may be due to the state of the economy but it may also reflect tentative progress by employers and government in building the medium-term talent pipeline with the introduction of more apprenticeships and other training schemes.


“However, it is still the case that too many employers are left frustrated by their failure to persuade those at job-entry level to remain within the organisation to emulate those that have exploited the training opportunities and promotion prospects at their organisations.  Employers need young people as much as young people need jobs, so it is important to find ways to tackle this problem.  The apparent gap between the expectations of employers and those of younger workers can be bridged with the offer of more formal training opportunities, especially apprenticeships, and a narrative that builds on the success of previous schemes for employees.  Specific attention should be given to pay, job status, and employment conditions. Meanwhile, employees also need to recognise that success does not come overnight, especially during such a difficult period for the UK labour market.”


Other key report findings:


  • On average, the share of migrant workers in private sector firms (11%) is higher than in public sector organisations (3%).


  • Of those employers that employ migrant workers, around one in twenty private sector companies’ report that at least half of their workforce is made up of migrant workers.  Overall, 14% of employers say that migrant workers comprise at least a fifth of their workforce.


  • Nearly a third of private sector employers (32%) use recruitment agencies to hire migrant workers.


  • Employers are more likely to be recruiting migrant workers from within the European Union (EU) than outside it.  40% of employers who use migrant workers are also actively recruiting EU migrant workers whereas a quarter (25%) of employers say they are going to actively recruit migrant workers from outside the EU.


  • In response to the increasing number of restrictions on employing non-EU workers, almost a third (32%) report that they will up-skill existing workers, while a similar proportion (30%) say that they will recruit more EU workers.  Meanwhile, 16% of companies whose ability to recruit non-EU workers has been restricted by immigration rules now plan to offshore those jobs abroad.
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