Weak pound hits labour-short sectors despite PM’s Brexit speech

A weakened pound in the wake of Brexit is causing employers in labour-short sectors to increase pay in order to secure talent, recruiters say.

Last Friday (22 September), Prime Minister Theresa May delivered a speech in Florence in which she called for a transition period of around two years, during which time trade would continue on current terms following Brexit.

During this period EU migrants would be able to live and work in the UK but have to register with the authorities, while the UK would continue to pay into the EU budget.

Commenting on the PM’s speech Andy Hogarth, CEO at industrial recruiter Staffline, told Recruiter it is increasingly becoming more difficult to recruit workers from Eastern Europe, but xenophobic behaviour in the wake of the UK’s vote to leave the EU is no longer the main cause of this. “The shortage of labour is becoming more acute already,” he said.

“From a year ago, where we had unpleasant, racist behaviour, which unfortunately meant some Eastern Europeans left the UK and have gone home. Although the behaviour appears to have died down, people are still feel very unwelcome and would appear to be going home.

“While the two-year transition might help, it’s not going to mean people are going to want to come and work here – partly because of the exchange rate, because what they earn in pounds is worth less in euros or their home currency. 

“It’s driven by politics… Until the exchange rate improves – the pound to euro – that’s going to carry on much the same.”

Gethin Roberts, managing director at driving agency Drivers Direct, told Recruiter the shortage of drivers across the whole sector is causing pay rates to increase: “I think there are less Polish drivers available to us than there were four, five years ago.

“As the economies have gone better in their countries, some have gone home for sure. We have tried to make sure the pay rates are correct for drivers that are in this country…

“We just have to redouble our efforts to get people into the industry and make conditions better for the people that are in the industry that they stay in this country and stay in our industry working.”

While Tony Goodwin, founder and CEO at Antal International, described the PM’s speech as “positive and conciliatory”, which would provide some reassurance for EU workers in the UK, he too expressed concerns about impact of the weakened pound.

“Because the pound has gone down in value against other European countries, one of the reasons we’re getting less labour isn’t because of us becoming Europhobic; it’s because they’re sending money back to Eastern Europe and they are not able to send as much back. It’s not to do with politics – it’s to do with economics.”

But Goodwin added concerns around Brexit are creating uncertainty around hiring among clients.

And Jo Sellick, MD at financial and legal staffing specialist Sellick Partnership, said in a statement he is worried the PM’s comments around trade post-Brexit will lead to yet more uncertainty for UK plc.

Sellick said: “The PM pledged that she would not accept any existing model, as is seeking an agreement that is more creative and forward-thinking than any that has been introduced in the past. While this is a bold statement and will hopefully lead to a superior framework than any other, it does leave me wondering what the future holds for our business leaders who trade with other EU countries.

“At least if we had an existing model to work from we would have some idea of how the agreement could look, but we are now left with endless possibilities about the type of business we will be able to do in Europe once we leave the EU.”

Ultimately, what clients currently crave is stability, Amanda Fisackerly, MD at Fizz Recruitment, told Recruiter. “It would be great if we can get moving ahead, gain some stability and a sense of influence and control. It’s felt a bit rudderless and as though the two sides have been repeating their stance without hearing, acknowledging or trying to accommodate the others perspective – in effect an impasse…

“My business will carry on as normal; however, it would assist me to have some confidence and calm imbued in my clients and applicants so that they can hold steady in the recruitment and decision-making processes.

“Endless questions still to be answered … however, this [PM’s statement] is quite clear, quite collaborate and collegiate, and to my ears, is designed to calm, reassure and hopefully inspire confidence that a workable solution can be found if each party makes the effort to work together to find it.”

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