Sir Digby Jones: These industrious workers are filling the skills gap

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Like many Western countries, we in Britain have grown complacent. We have to get off our backsides and do the jobs that need doing.

You cannot blame migrants if they are prepared to come here and work for wages which, though they may seem low to us, are a lot higher than in their own country. They come here with the skills that we no longer seem to be able to provide our own workforce. During a recent television series I made on the effects of migration from Poland, I spoke to an employment agency in Petershead, the heart of Scotland's fishing industry. I asked what it was that persuaded them to recruit from Poland rather than Scotland.

They explained that while advertisements for fish packers did elicit a response from local people, they would not stick at the job. By the end of the first week they would have drifted away. It is a problem for the industry and this in a country with the highest rate of young people not in employment, education or training in Europe.

The employers told me that when they recruit from Poland, they get as many people as they need and they always work hard.

But it is not just unskilled workers that we need. The Government is quite rightly trying to get pharmacists to take on more diagnostic work in the NHS. Eastern Europe is filling the skills gap and these workers' reputations are growing.But on the other side of the equation there ought to be some conditions on migration.

People coming here should be able to speak English, they should bring a skill with them and they must take part in the transparent economy. They get the protection of employment laws and health and safety rules while our economy flourishes. Because the average Polish worker arriving here is aged between 20 and 30, and more likely to be single and healthy, they place less burden on the state. Instead through taxes they are contributing to our pensions.

Our tradition of welcoming workers from overseas has generated a tremendous amount of goodwill abroad for the UK and tremendous benefits to our economy. We lose that at our peril.

Sir Digby Jones was director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, 2000-2006

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