Recruiters are struggling to fill vacancies as Brexit restrictions on free movement are causing a situation ‘unseen in two decades’.
It comes as the effects of EU lorry drivers going back to Europe and not being able to come back because of Brexit and Covid travel rules are being felt – with UK supermarkets struggling to fill shelves and the meat industry warning of a ‘crisis point’.
Ed Vigars, operations director at Encore Personnel, a firm recruiting 4,000 workers weekly across various sectors, told BusinessLive his customers have been hit hard by Brexit.
Drop in people ‘coming and staying in Britain’
The company has been working around the clock to help EU staff and candidates obtain Settled Status or apply under the Home Office scheme, to be able to maintain their working rights in post-Brexit Britain.
He labelled the government’s EU Settlement Scheme a “mammoth change” after experiencing an increase in workload to meet his biggest clients’ needs.
But despite most of these workers obtaining the status, Vigars said the number of workers “coming and staying in Britain is the main challenge.”
He told BusinessLive: “While this mammoth change in legislation has sent ripples through our industry and supply chains throughout the country, the issue of net migration is still the biggest hurdle.
‘EU workers are not returning’
“EU workers have left and aren’t returning.
“We’ve seen a 10 per cent decline in the number of EU workers coming to the UK this year compared to last.”
Vigars said the usual summer influx of students coming to Britain for work has not happened this year because of Brexit and the UK government’s Covid travel restrictions.
And he said one of his clients, who does vegetable packing, was told by 60 per cent of its staff that they are leaving the UK.
‘Shocking’ number of vacancies
He said: “The concept of a points-based system to attract workers to the UK is great, but the fact remains that we need people who want to do the jobs like picking potatoes, packing the boxes and driving the lorries.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before in the 20 years I’ve worked in recruitment.”
He added: “The amount of unfulfilled roles coming to us is truly shocking – illustrated starkly to us by how several of our competitors have asked us for support in filling jobs. This has never happened before on this scale.”
He called for a workable model for getting unskilled workers to fulfil vacancies, but said the UK “is a long way from that sort of stable flow of labour in this rocky post-Brexit period”.
Related: Poultry magnate warns UK ‘crisis point’ means ‘worst food shortages since war’
Lorry drivers safety rules further relaxed in effort to tackle shortages