On the 6th of October UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd made this statement on Radio 4 Today program:
‘I went and visited a factory quite recently where they recruit almost exclusively from Romania and Poland where there are people there who have had experience in factories building these sofa’s that they have. They didn’t even consider training locally, there was a local college that they could have worked with but they chose to recruit outside of the UK.’
Design Insider decided to question if the practise of the employer Rudd visited was widespread in our sector, we asked our members about apprenticeship schemes and if recruiting outside of the UK is the walk in the park that Rudd’s statement suggests.
We began by speaking with Rodney McMahon, Managing Director at Morgan, who set the scene by highlighting the lack of manufacturing experience in UK politics:
‘Amber Rudd’s comment reflects how few politicians have any experience of industry and manufacturing and the wider societal prejudice in favour of finance, law, the public sector and other non value adding careers. Thus stronger candidates are often not drawn to engineering or other such technical disciplines.’
In her statement Rudd accuses the company she visited of not taking an available opportunity to work with a local college, the four member companies we spoke with all invest in apprenticeship programs. Tim Armitt, Managing Director at Lyndon, clearly outlined their experience in recruiting skilled craftsmen in the UK:
‘The skills required to run an operation like ours are sometimes challenging to source in the location we are situated. Office staff have always been available, but woodworking and upholstery skills call for the net to be spread wider. We always include the local area when recruiting, but have had considerable success in both Poland and Romania when we have been looking for manual skills. It is our plan to embark on an apprenticeship scheme to encourage the school leavers to review their options.
I can only confirm that the workforce we employ here are all dedicated, competent and reliable, wherever they come from.’
Lyndon’s choice to embark on an apprenticeship scheme to support their local economy is something which Alistair Gough CEO at Ocee International also has experience of:
‘As a manufacturer of commercial furniture our biggest challenge is finding skilled labour for our upholstery department. There are no UK-based training courses or apprenticeships for such a skilled trade. We have therefore recruited a number of highly skilled and excellent workers from Eastern Europe. We do bring in young staff and train them ourselves in house but this obviously takes a considerable amount of time and it is therefore necessary as well, to recruit experienced skilled workers that can support the significant levels of growth we have enjoyed in recent years.’
McMahon attributes some the length of time required to run a successful apprenticeship scheme down to inadequacies in UK education:
‘Successive Governments have progressively closed relevant training centres especially in the South where we are based (Bucks New Uni closed their Furniture Courses). Often, as a consequence of this poor education, they have never developed a work ethic or the capacity to learn skills. Developing a trained workforce in this environment is challenging.’
With a commitment to finding the best candidates, Camira also utilises an apprenticeship scheme, as Operations Director Alan Williams and Lynn Morrison Director of HR describe:
‘We invest considerable time and effort attracting and training the very best candidates we can find from many local sources. We recruit from local schools and colleges and run intensive & innovative apprenticeship programs across all business functions. We recruit via local recruitment agencies, directly in the local press and on the internet. We recruit the best candidate for the job, based on character, personal attributes, as well as skills and experience. We look for people with the potential to do a great job within our business. We then provide ongoing training & development to ensure each person can reach their maximum capability.’
Williams and Morrison continue to explain why they also chose to employ outside of the UK: ‘As an international business, we require language skills in certain roles and these are typically filled by EU nationals living in the UK due to their multi-lingual ability. However, nationality is not a consideration for us.’
In her statement Rudd implies that the business she visited chose to employ outside of the UK as an easy option, however, Rodney McMahon explains that it is not always a straight forward process when recruiting outside of the UK:
‘Our experience of recruiting (semi skilled and skilled individuals to roles to make high quality furniture) of non UK nationals is that their often higher basic education standard and ambition comes with a strong work ethic and a capacity for being trained in both elementary and advanced skills. However, because they are not always committed to the UK as a home there is a greater tendency to move both within the UK and to return home. (We endeavour to integrate them within our teams, those who do integrate well, will stay, and become a valuable member of the team however those who do not, tend to be transient, 3 to 6 months before moving on, tend to job hop, following the money before returning home after 3 to 5 years, resulting in the long term loss of skills. From past experience those who do not integrate at work also do not integrate outside of work – watch home country TV, buy food from their home country corner shop, only speak their language, inter act with other individuals of their nationality etc.)
It is key to encourage people with the right behaviours, these individuals tend to integrate and add value to both the work place and the local area.
They are, therefore, not a panacea or certain replacement to developing local skills.’
Our members demonstrate that their key priority is to employ or train craftsmen with the skills their businesses require, regardless of nationality. This results in businesses which invest in apprenticeship schemes as well as prioritising the integration of skilled craftsmen from outside of the UK into their business.
Thankfully our members show that Amber Rudd’s experience is not the industry norm, we welcome her to meet our members and gain an accurate view of our sector.
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