UK targets more overseas skilled workers

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Uk food manufacturers, Labour economics

UK targets more overseas skilled workers
Growing staff shortages are forcing more and more UK food manufacturers to source expertise from abroad, claimed the chief executive of the...

Growing staff shortages are forcing more and more UK food manufacturers to source expertise from abroad, claimed the chief executive of the industry's sector skills council.

Jack Matthews, head of Improve, told a meeting of senior food industry human resources (HR) executives last week that employment patterns of overseas workers had "changed radically" over the past 18 months, with more managerial staff and skilled workers now being employed.

At the Food Manufacture HR forum, sponsored and hosted by legal firm Eversheds, in Manchester, Matthews said while firms used to employ unskilled manual workers on temporary contracts lasting from 11 to 19 months, the trend is now for more managerial, professional and technically skilled staff in permanent jobs. He said these were made up of one-third managerial and professional, one-third skilled and technical, and the remainder semi-skilled and manual workers.

According to official statistics the UK food and drink sector employed around 28,000 non-European Union nationals in total over the past two years. "I think that is a gross underestimate," claimed Matthews. "Professional and technical classes and their families are now moving in."

Matthews also spoke of the 150,000 projected shortfall of workers in the sector by 2012. If these people cannot be recruited within the UK, more are likely to come from abroad, he suggested. One HR manager said: "We are looking in labour markets we wouldn't have dreamed of two years ago."

While some manufacturers are attempting to address the shortfall by increasing their levels of automation, others were looking to move their production to lower cost locations overseas. "If return on capital starts dropping there are more arguments for moving to a lower cost base," said another HR manager.