Hiring expert Alexandra Slater, country manager UK at Dice, explains how you can plan your recruitment strategy ahead of Brexit.
If there’s one thing we can be certain of, it’s that Brexit will have an impact on the ability of UK companies to employ European tech professionals – what’s still unclear is what exactly that impact will be. Commentators agree that our government has the responsibility to negotiate a favourable deal that will facilitate the continued free movement of workers from abroad and allow those already here to stay, in order to address the skills gap that is a particular problem for the UK tech industry at present.
How might Brexit affect the UK tech workforce?
Deloitte conducted a post-Brexit vote survey among foreign workers both within and outside of the UK, finding that 21% of those based abroad now see the UK as a less attractive place to work, while 47% of highly skilled EU citizens already working here are considering leaving within the next five years. Another study found that applications for tech jobs from overseas workers have fallen by around 50%.
Another problem is that there are many job roles and areas where the existing British workforce simply doesn’t have the necessary skills. If you’re a UK-based tech employer, the obvious solution to this is to bring in the right people from abroad, but with Brexit looming around the corner, that could soon become a lot harder. Perhaps we’ll get a favourable Brexit deal and find that there was nothing to worry about all along.
There’s no way of determining how Brexit will affect the UK job market. The uncertainty of the situation makes it very hard for employers to make decisions with confidence; especially among tech companies, who are already suffering from a skills shortage.
With all this uncertainty, how can you prepare during this potentially volatile ‘in-between stage’ while the details of Brexit are being hammered out, and come out on top?
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Play the waiting game, or act now?
Because we’re dealing with so many unknowns, it could be argued that the most sensible strategy is to hold off on any big plans and wait to see what happens before making any decisions. On the other hand, this could turn out to be a bad idea because you might get left behind if your competitors take action and end up getting rewarded. For example, the best strategy might be to hire the people you’re expecting to need now while you can still benefit from the EU’s free movement, to get around any potential difficulties attracting or recruiting European talent caused by Brexit.
Consider working with remote staff
This might not work for every company, but if you don’t need the whole of your workforce to be based at your UK headquarters, hiring staff who can work from their own offices in other locations could be a great solution. This could also be a cheaper alternative to paying employees to work in the UK because your overheads will be lower and, depending where they’re based, their salary expectations may not be as demanding. Things to keep in mind if you’re going down this route include making sure that the people you hire are well suited to working from home, finding ways to ensure that they’re fulfilling their targets and maintaining a personal relationship with them to keep them happy, on point and aligned with your goals.
Set up an EU office
Another more extreme option that could work for you, resources and strategy permitting, is to set up an office in a country that’s remaining in the EU. From here, it’ll be easy to bring in employees from around the EU and maintain contact with all of your remote talent through a single touchpoint. A potential unwanted side effect is that if lots of companies start doing this, it could have a negative impact on the UK’s competitiveness as a tech hub, but ultimately you have to do what’s needed for your business to thrive.
Protect your existing EU workers
The solutions above are geared towards ensuring that you maintain an inbound flow of skilled individuals to support your company’s growth, but what about your existing talent? With the number of skilled EU workers considering leaving the UK growing in the wake of the Brexit vote, this might well be the most important place to start. Protecting your existing workforce will involve taking steps to make sure they want to stay, and ensuring that they’re able to if they do.
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This could involve keeping an eye on the legal situation as Brexit talks unfold and preparing yourself for all likely eventualities. You should also talk to your European employees to find out whether they’re planning to stay or leave, what their fears and long-term ambitions are, what they require in order to stay and how you can support them in meeting these needs. Reassure them that if they have to apply for a new visa or fulfil any other complicated procedures, you’ll offer them as much help as you can.
Be ready for anything
The unavoidable truth is that until the deals are done, it’s very hard to be at all certain how Brexit will affect the UK job market and your company. With 40% of the country’s tech workforce being from the EU it’s clear that the industry relies on overseas talent, so there will be plenty to worry about if a large proportion of it decides to go elsewhere. Some experts are even afraid that uncertainty caused by Brexit could be a trigger for skilled British employees to leave for other shores. It’s worth keeping in mind however, that despite everything the UK remains one of the most attractive markets for overseas tech professionals.
When all is said and done, it’s impossible to know how to handle the situation at this stage. Things that may help you when making decisions include keeping an eye on the situation as it unfolds in order to take advantage of opportunities that arise, staying on top of trends to avoid being left behind and striking a healthy balance between scrambling to fulfil your long-term strategy and proceeding with caution.