It is very easy to make judgements on limited information. When I heard the BBC reporting on Angela Rudd’s conference speech as Home Secretary they highlighted the potential immigration controls proposed and in particular the possible requirement of companies to list the number of non-UK citizens they employ. A follow-up interview by the BBC allowed Rudd to expand on the reason behind this potentially naming and shaming policy in which she gave the example of a furniture manufacturer who employed 80-90% of their workforce from Romania and Poland because these workers were experienced in the processes required. Rudd questioned why the company hadn’t trained up local people instead to do the jobs. The clip ends with Rudd saying that the government wants to find tools for “nudging people to do better behaviour”.

My immediate reaction to hearing about the speech was of despair, hasn’t history taught us anything? I immediately thought of the segregation brought in by the German National Socialists before the Second World War. In seemingly reasonable steps the Nazi’s first highlighted minorities as issues to be tackled then made it easier to identify the minorities before rounding them up into first ghettos (for their own safety) and then concentration camps each time reducing the minorities rights until they had none left, not even a right to live. There were people that stood up to these policies but the majority of the population trusted the words of the government and towed the party line perhaps because to do otherwise was too dangerous.

My wife and I are partners in a company and although I have no direct involvement in the recruiting process, I do as a company partner employ people (currently three to be precise). When we advertise for a person to join our business we take great care that we choose the best person we can for the post from the list of people that apply. Everybody that puts in an application is entitled to feedback, this maybe advising on what was missing from a CV or explaining what we felt was missing from their presentation or interview answers. We have criteria which are split into core requirements and positive extras to measure each person against to make this system transparent and fair to everyone. We do not penalise people on their country of birth but it would be fair to say that somebody with a higher level of education or greater relevant experience would stand a better chance of making it to a short-list of people to be interviewed.

Is the recruitment system fair then and are we behaving well in Rudd’s opinion? I suspect no system is completely fair because there are always constraints on it. In an ideal world we would interview each candidate and do more formalised testing (psychometrics perhaps?) but as a small company we just do not have the resources (time mainly) to do that if more than a small number apply. We have to compromise between the time the recruitment process takes and keeping the company running with fewer staff members. Are we behaving well in Rudd’s sense of the phrase? Well I can only assume that Rudd means are we employing and training up local people over foreign nationals?

This is an interesting point in that, at least in our process, this is shifting the education of the individuals away from the state’s responsibility onto the company’s. Level of education is one of the necessary filtering criteria we have to make a short-list but obviously we couldn’t apply a criteria if it led up to having nobody on the short-list so the criteria may change (reduced level of qualifications perhaps) to make sure we have a short-list. If we interviewed somebody and felt that they had the potential to do the job we would employ them for an extended probationary period (everybody has a probationary period anyway) to see if they could adapt and learn to cope with the demands of the job. We couldn’t however employ somebody if they couldn’t use a computer because all our processes require competent use of them; should we therefore sponsor training in IT skills? I don’t think we could afford that as we are currently set up.

Rudd seems to be hinting at that the company is better behaved if they employ local people and train them up over non-UK citizens with relevant experience. It is not hard to see that this model has a cost implication which I would have thought a Conservative government would be sensitive to. It is too easy to focus on money though and forget about other issues. A foreign working is not only a new working approaching a job with fresh eyes, they are also coming from a different background and culture. I see this as a two edged sword. Things like local customs and language may be difficult for the non-UK worker to understand but I think this can be seen in a positive light because often these simple questions (e.g. why do we have to say hello on the phone) leads to greater understanding of the cross cultures as well as streamlining procedures (why do we ask that question?).

When I first started writing this post, I envisaged comparing my reaction to the information by the BBC and actually reading Angela Rudd’s speech but it seems that will have to wait for another time. For now then, taking the source into account my concerns with the government’s projected line is that:

  • Historically highlighting one group as more deserving over another has led to very dark places;
  • Training local people has a cost implications and smacks of the government shifting responsibility;
  • Reducing foreign nationals from the workplace removes the positive contribution cross cultural experiences can bring to a business and also in the wider community as a whole.

I feel saddened by the rhetoric coming from the Conservative government and I do not like the way it could be leading the country but I also feel annoyed that as an employer that it is seen that I might not be behaving well by employing non-UK citizens. We employ the best people for the job and if nobody is able to fulfil all our essential criteria then we try to find another way to handle the situation rather than employing the wrong person. It just doesn’t make sense for the business or the employee to do otherwise.