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What does Brexit mean for HR professionals?

26th Mar 2019
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As the deadline for Brexit looms, with still no definitive answers about the future outcome, HR professionals must take action in future-proofing their workforces for the departure from the EU.


It is no secret that there is already a dire shortage of skills across a number of professions, with many businesses experiencing difficulties in filling vacancies. Adding fuel to the fire, new CBI research found that the Government’s current proposals of implementing a £30,000 salary threshold for skilled workers will leave over 100,000 unfilled jobs. This, combined with added ambiguity surrounding Brexit, means that HR professionals must be strapped in for a bumpy ride. At the start of the year, permanent placements fell for the first time in two years, which may be attributed in part to a shortage of relevant skills.

The UK Government has outlined that it is working with devolved administrations to ensure that employers have the flexibility they need to bring talent on board and that individuals from the EU can come to visit, live and work in all parts of the UK. The Government will be prioritising professionals and implementing a skilled-based migration policy, which will ensure that the UK remains a hub for international talent from the EU and the rest of the world.

However, the new visa system can be implied as contradicting this. The legislation will place restrictions on firms employing workers under threshold for longer than a year. Business groups and politicians slammed the proposals and urged the government to avoid placing additional cost burdens on companies after Brexit.

Regardless of difficulties in sourcing staff and the unpredictability that Brexit brings, it seems employers are still enthusiastic to recruit individuals from the European Union. At the beginning of 2018,  two-thirds of businesses said they would continue to employ EU nationals, whilst in 2017, CIPD research found that the proportion of employers who intended to recruit EU migrants was largely the same as the proportion doing so in 2016, across all sectors. The most common reason stated was because they base their hiring on the best skills at hand rather than nationality. In regards to semi-skilled or unskilled roles, the main reason given was that companies could not find the volume of domestic applicants required to fill vacancies.

With many EU workers confused and worried during this uncertain time, it is vital that employers offer guidance and support. HR should encourage their staff to consider their status early on and apply for the most appropriate documentation for them.  The permanent residence document is available for EU nationals who have lived in the UK for five consecutive years while exercising their free movement rights, where as the EU settlement scheme is for EU workers who have not.

A number of employers have made it their responsibility to pay the £65 fee for the settlement application. Of course, not all companies can help financially, and if this is the case, HR can help by providing practical support and resources to their employees. One example is hosting information workshops by immigration experts to provide up-to-date information. You can also make use of the Government’s employer EU settlement scheme toolkit, which provides factsheets, posters and videos to raise awareness among staff.

However, regardless of the help given, not everyone will apply for settlement and Brexit will inevitably drain some talent. To tackle this issue, HR professionals must work strategically and look to alternative talent pools to bridge the skills gap. Companies have already tried various methods in addressing recruitment challenges. For example, in the Autumn 2018 Labour Market Outlook survey, 48% of firms stated that they raised starting salaries, and 51% of businesses had increased renumeration in some capacity. In addition to financial incentives, employers can work on developing their employer brand to address hiring difficulties.

In preparation of Britain leaving the EU, and to alleviate the pressure caused by skill shortages, employers should be heavily investing in training opportunities for their staff. This is already taking place for many companies that employ EU nationals. In addition to this, businesses should be seeking to recruit from a wider range of under-represented groups, such as older workers or those from minority ethnic backgrounds. Utilising existing talent pools is crucial to ensure businesses stay afloat. Employers need to assign great urgency to undertaking strategic workforce planning in order to soften the impact of Brexit. Although free movement is likely to be coming to an end, this does not mean that HR must struggle with talent indefinitely.

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