East of England needs migrant workers to help beat recession

Migrant factory workersWHILE local people are given support to find jobs or learn new skills, migrant workers are needed to plug employment gaps and help the East of England beat the recession, according to Deborah Cadman, chief executive of the business-led East of England Development Agency (EEDA).

Ms Cadman was referring to the publication of two new reports commissioned by EEDA with part funding from the European Social Fund. The migrant worker reports provide evidence to help improve the economy of the region.

The first report, by leading independent think-tank the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), says many employers in the East of England rely on migrant workers. Migrant worker availability in the East of England – an economic risk assessment demonstrates that migrants play an important role in filling labour and skills gaps that exist in some parts of the regional economy.

Rural migrant workersThe report acknowledges that demand for migrant labour will decline during the recession, and suggests that migrant numbers will fall in response, but argues that the regional economy will continue to need international workers.

IPPR’s research is supported by findings from the first year of a three-year study conducted by Anglia Ruskin University on behalf of EEDA, also published today. This reveals that while fewer migrants are arriving in the region, there are currently no signs of a migrant exodus.

Ms Cadman added: “Our first priority is putting significant investment into raising the skills of the local workforce, particularly helping those who are unemployed to gain new skills and get back into employment. In these difficult economic times however, it’s vital that businesses can get the workers they need.

“We need migrant workers to plug employment gaps in the East of England. Where the right workers aren’t available locally, employers must be able to draw on a wider pool of international workers. With these reports EEDA is providing the evidence to help private and public sector partners make decisions so we can get the region through the tough economic times and prepare for the eventual upturn.”

Dr Jill Rutter, Senior Research Fellow at IPPR, said: “Our research in the East of England has shown that many businesses, from agriculture to high-tech, depend on workers from other countries to survive and grow. Often this is because there are not enough local workers with the right skills and experience. In other cases migrants provide vital, flexible labour where British people can’t do the job for practical reasons or simply don’t want to do it. So if the availability of migrant labour decreases, the economy could be at significant risk.”

The government and regional development agencies are investing significant funding into training to close skills gaps and enable employers to recruit suitably skilled staff from the UK workforce. This is a particular priority for the East of England where skill levels in many areas are below the national average.

In the last six months, EEDA has provided training opportunities for over 2000 workers in the East of England, including support for people being made redundant to help them move back into work. However, some skills gaps will take a number of years to close, while the demand for some highly-skilled workers is likely to remain greater than the supply available within the UK.

Other vacancies that are seasonal or in remote locations will also remain unsuitable even for those who become unemployed during the recession and will continue to require migrants who can be more flexible about where and when they work.

In the second report commissioned by EEDA, Dr Claudia Schneider and Dr Deborah Holman of the Public Policy Consultancy Group at Anglia Ruskin University present findings from the first year of a three-year study following the experiences of European citizens working in the East of England.

Dr Claudia Schneider said: “The study shows that most migrant workers in the region are adopting a ‘wait and see’ attitude before deciding whether to return home. But more must be done to persuade them to stay.

“There is a wide variety of factors that influence migrants’ decisions about how long to stay in the UK, including their sense of belonging and community here, desire to improve their English and opportunities to progress in their career and earn better wages. If we are to encourage them to stay and contribute to the East of England economy, we must continue to tackle discrimination and hostility towards foreign workers, provide faster recognition of migrants’ skills and better provision of English language training to enable migrants to use their skills fully.”

To read both reports in full, visit www.eeda.org.uk/migrantworkers.