The effect that the UK leaving the EU would have on jobs and employment was a key debating point in the run up to the referendum, and as Brexit negotiations continue, concerns remain for many. But what does this mean for HR professionals?

In May 2017 it was reported that European citizens leaving the UK since the Brexit vote resulted in an 84,000 drop in net migration. Since then, a separate report from Deloitte found that up to 47 per cent of high-skilled EU citizens and 38 per cent of lower skilled EU nationals who are employed in the UK are considering leaving within the next five years.

From a recruitment and HR perspective, this is obviously not welcome news. While it’s encouraging that the Government has explicitly recognised that the UK should remain a hub for international talent post-Brexit, it’s vital that Brexit Minister, David Davis, and his team prioritise negotiating immigration policy during Brexit talks. It is important that the position of EU nationals is made crystal clear at the earliest possible opportunity, and that those working on a contract basis are valued as much as those employed directly. 

Last year we presumed it was the roles that may be disappearing – however now it looks as if the talent may be also becoming scarcer. Immediately after the vote, the Institute of Directors (IoD) surveyed over 1,000 business leaders. Two thirds said the referendum result would be ‘negative’ for them, a quarter planned to freeze recruitment and five per cent expected to fire staff. More than a third planned to reduce their investment plans and a fifth said they would consider moving some operations abroad. In the days following the referendum, the jobs website – Indeed – reported a spike in people searching for jobs outside the UK while search traffic also increased from EU countries to Ireland, at the expense of usual EU-to-UK searches. Today, according to the latest survey from the IoD, 11 per cent of leaders are already triggering Brexit contingency plans, including postponing large investment projects. Needless to say, a shrinking workforce coupled with a drop in UK business confidence could spell economic disaster if not handled correctly.    

While we await further details on how EU nationals will continue to work in the UK, at ground level, HR teams must concentrate their efforts on retaining existing European staff and ensuring their employer brand continues to be attractive to those from overseas. For example, by implementing internal communications initiatives to provide support and reassurance.   

From a compliance perspective, HR leaders must also ensure they are equipped to manage the status of existing and incoming staff seamlessly. It has been confirmed that three million EU citizens living in Britain will have to apply for inclusion on a ‘settled status’ register if they want to stay in the country after Brexit under Home Office proposals. This ‘light touch’ online system to process applications will give applicants the same ‘indefinite leave to remain’ status as many non-European nationals who have also lived in Britain for five years. It is crucial that HR teams are able to help manage this process.

As a trade body which exclusively represents organisations within the professional recruitment sector, we continuously lobby Government to ensure that the interests of our members, and the organisations they recruit for, are protected. It is crucial that the Government consults with representative bodies in the professional recruitment sector as EU-derived laws are replaced by, or recreated into, British statute. One of the UK’s main differentiators from the rest of Europe is the flexibility of its labour market. Post-Brexit, it is now more crucial than ever that we don’t introduce unnecessary barriers to growth.

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