More than three-quarters (76%) of manufacturers in the UK employ at least one EU national in their business, while EU nationals make up 11% of the manufacturing workforce on average. This is according to a report published the EEF, which highlights the issues that manufacturers will have, and perhaps many other sectors, when seeking appropriately skilled workers in a post-Brexit world.
Making migration work for manufacturers: Accessing skills in a post-Brexit world also highlighted that EU nationals fill job roles across the business, although the greatest number are employed in process, plant and machine operative roles (48%), skilled trades (19%) and associate professional and technical positions such as engineers (18%).
When respondents to the study were asked about their reasons for recruiting EU nationals, nearly two-thirds (64%) said that they do so because they have an insufficient number of UK applicants applying for their jobs, while a third said that the skills their business needs can’t be found among UK nationals. Others recruit EU nationals because they have a better work ethic, have foreign language skills, or because they are part of the company’s intra-company transfer programme.
“Preventing industry from being able to recruit the best skilled workers from the EU could be catastrophic for British industry and the UK economy as a whole. Skills shortages are endemic in manufacturing and engineering and any points based-type system would choke off the skills needed by this sector,” said Tim Thomas, Director of Employment and Skills at EEF.
When EEF surveyed members soon after the EU referendum, a quarter expected to face difficulties in attracting EU workers and almost one in three expected a loss of skilled EU workers. In reality, the impact has been limited to-date with just 16% saying they’ve seen an increase in the number of EU nationals leaving their business since the referendum. However, 26% have seen a decrease in the number of job applications from EU nationals.
Going forward, the consensus among manufacturers is that applying the same, or similar, immigration restrictions to EU nationals as currently apply to non-EU nationals would make it significantly harder for manufacturers to access the skills they need.