The thorny subject of immigration raised its head again after the Office of National Statistics’ labour market report revealed an increase in the number of workers in the UK from Romania and Bulgaria. It sparked concerns that this is just the first wave of a potential tsunami of migration from these countries when laws restricting the type of jobs Romanian and Bulgarian migrants are allowed to do will be relaxed from the start of next year. Immigration is one of the issues that truly divide the nation; from political parties to the blokes in the pub, most people have differing views as to how the country should make the best use of workers from Europe and beyond. To my mind, it is simply a supply and demand situation. Back in the late 90s and early noughties, my industry was apparently blighted by the mythical ‘Polish Plumber’ who bought his bag of tools over from Warsaw and began plying his trade in the kitchens and bathrooms of British homeowners. While there might not have been the huge influx of Polish plumbers that people may have expected, the urban myths would never have gained momentum if it wasn’t for the fact there was actually work available for the number that came to the UK. And this is the case now with a range of vocations. There is not enough UK talent to fill the jobs, which is creating opportunities for migrants. I’m sure, as with Pimlico Plumbers, most British employers love employing British workers. But say there are just 20 British applicants compared to 300 European applicants for 50 job vacancies, it’s pretty obvious who the largest percentage of the jobs will go to whoever the 300 people are. At Pimlico we are always hiring, but if the locals don’t apply we can’t give them the jobs, simple. If there is a lack of British people applying for jobs then this should be the priority and they should turn their heads to the reasons why this is happening. My vote is split between two reasons. Firstly, the ingrained culture in many areas of UK society, which prefers alternatives to working – i.e. benefits – that needs to be destroyed. Secondly, undoubtedly it’s a skills and training issue. And, for me, that’s the story behind the story. If there are no skilled local people then businesses have no choice, but to look further afield. The historical prejudices against vocational training continue to come home to roost. Despite the acknowledgement in the last three or four years that practical skills and vocational training have to be higher on the education agenda, the country is still coming up short. If the UK workforce contained the right levels of skills and motivated workers, migration wouldn’t be an issue. Workers from abroad would, of course, still be welcome to the UK to try and get work, but they would find it far tougher to get jobs up against a better equipped and driven British workforce. Charlie Mullins is CEO and founder of Pimlico Plumbers.
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