Hiring boom across the UK’s port towns

Since the EU referendum in 2016, commentators have speculated that UK trading ports would be one area that would be hard-hit following any departure from the European market. Exports to the EU dropped dramatically in January following the UK’s departure from the EU market, but have been climbing steadily once again in recent months according to the Office for National Statistics, triggering hiring sprees across many of the UK’s port towns.

With the new red tape that has come with border control restrictions, employers are taking on staff at a fast rate. From office-based roles to lighten the administrative load, to legal experts to better understand the new trading conditions employers need to adhere to, many of the UK’s port towns are hiring at a much faster rate than in previous years. The ManpowerGroup Employment Outlook Survey suggests that employers are actively looking for skilled operation and logistics workers.

It’s not merely the traditional trading ports into Europe such as Dover and Southampton that has seen a rise in vacancies – jobs are being created throughout the UK. Many firms based in the north of England and in Scotland are looking for alternative routes into Europe rather than transporting goods to the south of England, which is good news for jobseekers across the region’s shipping hubs.

In Hull and Grimsby, two towns in the North East of England with extensive trading links to Europe, show there were more open opportunities in April 2021 than in any other time in the past two years according to data from Indeed. Even before the pandemic, when the UK was experiencing unprecedented employment levels, the number of open roles did not come close to now across the two regions.

After the weakest 12 months for the UK’s jobs outlook in 30 years, employers are raring to get back to normal and capture the wave of pent-up consumer demand. The employment outlook has seen the sharpest quarter-on-quarter increase since 2002 and the largest year-on-year record to date. Much of this is likely to be companies making up for hiring freezes and redundancies undertaken over the past 12 months.

As the United Kingdom continues to work out its trading relationship with mainland Europe, what’s clear is that employers want to maintain a smooth export operation. The rules of the game have changed significantly, and the complexity that comes with the new trading conditions means employers are currently, and will continue to be, looking to increase headcounts at the ports to meet demand.

The challenge to overcome sits in supply of talent. As port towns heat up, their normal talent pool of European workers has dried up. The unemployment rate continues to fall and demand for roles the length and breadth of the UK is far outstripping supply. There is hiring surge in the UK looking for specific skilled talent. At the same time, more and more workers are keen to work remotely and find the flexibility the pandemic has offered them more permanently. In ports, more often than not, roles are hands-on and the need for people on-site is apparent. These employers are turning to new and innovative ways to get people through the door – choose your own shift patterns, signing-on bonuses, lunch allowances and more.

To tackle this challenge head on and plug the gaps, ManpowerGroup turns to the four Bs of workforce management:

BUILD: In areas where skills shortages can be the norm, how can you build the talent you need from the ground up? Consider providing meaningful upskilling opportunities to your current workforce, such as logistics or supply chain management.

BUY: Identify areas where only the best workers will suffice on short-term projects, such as international legal trade experts, and go to the external market when skills cannot be developed in-house.

BORROW: Consider what work can be performed remotely and look outside your own area for temporary support, including administrative work and even HR functions.

BRIDGE: Assess whether workers can be reallocated to different elements of your operation or helped into more senior roles on-site.

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