Many UK organisations want to welcome Ukrainian refugees, but how do we turn recruitment rhetoric into a hiring reality? James Reed gives his view
The invasion of Ukraine in late February tragically triggered the largest refugee crisis Europe has faced in years. Recipient countries are currently focused on the entry and immediate housing of those fleeing danger, with a significant outpouring of support from the general public. In the UK, close to 200,000 citizens have registered to host Ukrainians in their own homes, while the Disasters Emergency Committee’s (DEC) Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal reached over £200 million within two weeks of launching. While the appeal through the Big Give has so far raised £3.5 million and is still doubling donations to the DEC.
Across the UK, the support has been widespread, and this extends to the business sector. Recent research has found that four in five (80%) hiring managers would be willing to employ a Ukrainian refugee if given the opportunity.
While there is a strong desire to provide Ukrainian refugees with the opportunity to enter the UK labour market, we must understand whether the market is ready to support a smooth integration and what hurdles must be overcome to put the ambitions of hiring managers into practice.
Are there enough roles?
In helping Ukrainian refugees access the UK’s labour market, there is an opportunity to help thousands on their path to securing financial freedom and personal security. Fortunately, the current UK hiring market is ripe for them to take advantage of and the UK’s ‘jobs boom’ shows no signs of slowing down.
Bureaucracy is now hampering the support that businesses and the general public want to give Ukrainians fleeing the war
According to research, more than 70% of employers believe assisting Ukrainian refugees in their transition into the UK workforce will help ease the pressures of the current and widespread skills shortages. Many sectors are seeing a critical shortage in workers, so any additional applicant numbers will come at a helpful time for businesses looking to fill these roles. Ultimately, the record levels of vacancies across the jobs market should provide Ukrainian refugees seeking employment with the freedom to choose from a large variety of career options suitable for all levels of skills.
Shortcomings in the UK’s visa processing
One of the most immediate challenges to overcome in hiring and integrating Ukrainian refugees is a much-needed reassessment of our current visa approval system. While the rapid implementation of new visa schemes was going to be a challenge for the Home Office, the roll-out has been greatly criticised due to its complexity and severe processing delays.
These criticisms have mounted with the Home Office’s recent announcement that only 1,200 refugees have arrived through the ‘Homes for Ukraine Scheme’ – less than 3% of those who applied over the past three weeks. The latest figures (3 May) show the UK has seen a total of 27,100 refugees arriving in the country, less than a third (31.4%) of the total number of refugees issued with visas under the two existing schemes”. Comparatively, Germany has welcomed 390,000, and the Republic of Ireland has welcomed 20,000.
The UK’s visa schemes offer refugees the ability to live and work in the UK for up to three years, a positive guarantee for Ukrainians that employers can rely upon when hiring. However, according to research, 59% of hiring managers believe the government should make it easier for Ukrainian refugees to enter the UK. It is clear that bureaucracy is now hampering the support that businesses and the general public want to give Ukrainians fleeing the war.
Overcoming language barriers
Other stumbling blocks may be faced by Ukrainian refugees when applying for jobs – research indicates that one of the primary concerns for UK businesses hiring Ukrainian refugees is the potential language barrier, however English proficiency amongst Ukrainians sits only marginally below the European average and above the international standard.
While state-sponsored language classes will be an essential investment in the long term. More could be done by the government, private enterprises and hiring managers to provide short-term training on job-related vocabulary and employer-based language classes to reduce this potential barrier.
The path forward
Ultimately, an influx of Ukrainian refugees seeking access to the labour market will require UK businesses to adapt their hiring processes and employee support systems around the needs of these unique candidates. Failure to make these adaptations will result in a missed opportunity to successfully integrate thousands of highly skilled refugees into a UK labour market that is in dire need of workers. This would be a disservice to the thousands fleeing danger in pursuit of a better life for both themselves and their families.
James Reed is the chairman of REED