Peterborough business leaders warn of tough challenge to recruit staff

Employers in Peterborough say they are embroiled in a recruitment crisis with many firms griped by labour shortage.

Wednesday, 6th October 2021, 3:43 pm
Adrian Posnett, managing director of Oakham Ales at Woodston EMN-200219-160426009

Companies in farming, food and drink, transport and manufacturing are struggling to find enough staff to ensure the smooth running of the business.

Some have increased wages and have devised other ways to allow people to work around their family commitments.

Many business leaders reject Government moves to blame companies for recent shortages of goods and fuel and have branded ministers demands for high wages and more investment in technology as unrealistic.

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Produce World, Great Drove, Yaxley EMN-140703-153512001

William Burgess, chairman of Yaxley-based fresh vegetables supplier Produce World, said: “I don’t think it’s fair to blame business.

“The food supply chain for agriculture is extremely competitive and we work on very fine margins of two or three per cent.

“Had we geared up for labour shortages by investing in lots of very expensive robots we would have been uncompetitive.

“Moreover we didn’t have the funding capacity to make these investments - and that all assumes that the technology to automate many of our jobs exists.

He added: “In fact we have done a lot of this where possible.

“We have recently invested in camera graders to sort carrots without humans.

“The machine takes photographs of carrots and sorts them based on size and quality.

“This can process 30 tonnes an hour and cost £2 million together with the ancillaries.

“It has done away with 12 full time staff but created jobs for two skilled engineers.”

Produce World currently has 70 staff vacancies that is desperately trying to fill.

Mr Burgess said: “We do have many vacancies and we are using social media and agencies to help recruit.

“We have set up flexible shifts for working parents so they can drop the children off at school and then start work.

He said: “I am optimistic that in the long run the economy will adjust.

“But the government can help by improving infrastructure, for instance service stations for lorry drivers.

“It can also help with expanding Seasonal Agricultural Workers Schemes (SAWS) to enable foreign labour to come for a limited period to help with seasonal demands.

“The government should allow immigration visas for key skill shortages, forexample, lorry drivers and it could also help with improving access to funding for automation, for instance grants and loan schemes.”

Adrian Posnett, managing director of brewery Oakham Ales, in Maxwell Road, Woodston, said: “The main difficulty we’re facing is the near impossibility of recruiting additional delivery drivers.

“Our pub trade has recovered encouragingly over the last few months, but without sufficient drivers it’s a big struggle to get our beers delivered.

“Haulier logistics into the supermarkets and courier deliveries of online sales have also suffered, with significantly increased costs and a substantial decline in reliability.

“All of this is bound to increase our cost overheads and ultimately to put huge pressure on margins at a time when our industry is still a long way from recovering from the financial impact of the pandemic.

Mr Posnett added: “Along with most in the brewing sector, we’ll continue to do everything we can to ensure our survival, but once again, we’d appeal to the Government to review the punitive Duty levied on beers in the UK.

“For an industry hit harder than most others by the pandemic, a lessening of the Duty burden is essential to ensure the survival of a vibrant UK brewing sector.

Martin Steele, chairman of chemicals maker Safapac, in Orton Southgate, which has 60 staff and about 10 vacancies, said: “Business is okay having weathered the Covid-19 storm.

“We would like to exploit future opportunities, but our main concern is staff.

“As a service business, manufacturing chemical products for customers in UK and Europe, we are simply unable to offer the cash incentives some of the larger companies, for instance Amazon can offer new staff.

“However, we can offer an employee sensitive work environment that only a family owned business can offer.

“Safapac has benefitted for many years from the contribution and hard work of not only UK employees but a significant number of employees from the EU.

“I cannot envisage that we can achieve our business aims and grow without permitting workers from EU countries and wider afield.

“Only today, I was informed that my HR colleagues that we had six interviews confirmed and booked last week, but none of these interviewees turned up.

“Brexit has occurred, we will adjust our business over the challenging next year or two.

“However, though immigration was one of the key decision factors of the referendum. I believe it is control of immigration that was voted for, not NO immigration and no overseas workers.

“I do blame the government for not listening to business and they must take more action.

Mr Steele warned: “We will have serious problems if we are not able to recruit the staff we need.

“It is not simply a case of improving productivity through investment and next week things will be fine.”

In a bid to try and recruit extra HGV drivers, the Peterborough-based Road Haulage Association is launching a nationwide recruitment campaign with a roadshow in Peterborough’s Cathedral Square tomorrow.

And staff at the Department of Work and Pensions is hosting a jobs fair at its offices in Northminster, Peterborough, on October 19 as leading employers such as engineering giant Perkins, housing association Cross Keys Homes and online retailer Amazon seek to fill hundreds of vacancies.”