A large number of employers in then UK may look to recruit staff from the ten EU accession countries in a bid to meet specific skills shortages.
A survey of 101 HR professionals across a range of industry sectors by recruitment communications specialists Barkers found that almost one in four (39 per cent) would consider filling vacancies with skilled workers from countries such as Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic or the Baltic states.
A similar proportion (38 per cent) believe that such recruits will only stay for between 18 and 24 months – suggesting that they view them as a short-term answer to specific skills gaps.
But figures from a much larger survey due to be released next week by the Institute of Directors (IoD) suggest that the Barkers research may be under-estimating the interest UK employers have in skilled workers from Eastern Europe.
Around six out of ten IoD members believe that workers from the ten new accession states could help to plug skills gaps in Britain. A similar number will say they would consider recruiting these workers for their own companies.
The Barkers survey found that recruitment costs, language barriers and time to hire were the main reasons for not recruiting from accession countries. Employers also said that they would consider recruiting from accession countries if they received applications and already had a base in the country.
One in seven (15 per cent) of the respondents to the survey said that all their vacancies are filled from within the UK.
Generally, respondents supported fair and open competition, with almost three-quarters (72 per cent) seeing the enlargement of the EU as a step towards a greater global flow of labour.
But more than eight out of ten (82 per cent) of employers believe that the long-term answer to UK skills shortages is more investment in training, specifically vocational. The finding echos a call made by the British Chambers of Commerce Skills Taskforce last week for the government to abandon its 50 per cent target for young people entering Higher Education and to focus instead on vocational training.
Robert Peasnell, managing director of Barkers London, was cautious about the findings.
“The enlargement of the EU offers employers a new pool of talent from which to recruit,” he said. “Our survey shows that unless organisations have a particular skills shortage to fill they are unlikely to proactively seek applications from accession countries.”
One area in the UK suffering from particular skills shortages is pharmacy.
And with pharmacists from accession countries eligible to work in the UK after completing a short conversion programme, the entry of the ten states into the EU could not have come at a better time for LloydsPharmacy, the largest community pharmacy in the UK.
The company, which operates more than 1360 dispensing pharmacies across the country, plans to recruit 300 pharmacists and 150 graduates from the UK this year plus 50 pharmacists from overseas.
"We have already been to Poland, where we engaged with experienced pharmacists and other healthcare professionals," said Nigel Ward, LloydsPharmacy’s Senior Resourcing Manager.
"We found that the compatibility of qualifications, level of English fluency and interest in working in the UK was high. We are in the process of shortlisting our first group of pharmacists from Poland."
Pharmacists recruited from outside the UK can expect to receive the same remuneration as their UK colleagues. The company also contributes to their relocation costs and provides them with the services of a relocation agency that sources estate agents, schools, churches etc. in the local area. Overseas starters are also assigned a mentor – a colleague who lives locally who has volunteered to help them acclimatise to the new area.
"We expect that the pharmacists we recruit from accession countries will want to stay in the UK for between three and five years or longer, before returning to their home country with increased skills,” said Nigel Ward.