Employers face ‘wake-up call’ as UK drops out of EU workers’ top six countries

5 Jan 2018 By Emily Burt

Organisations urged to invest in wider workforce development strategy to avoid European talent drain

Businesses must invest in ambitious workforce development plans to prepare for Brexit-related uncertainty about their future skills requirements, experts have warned, after a global survey revealed that the UK has disappeared from the list of the top six countries European employees would chose to move to for work.

Accounting firm BDO Global’s 2017 report, which surveyed 10,000 people across 20 countries, showed that the UK had fallen out of the rankings. It held joint third place alongside Australia and Switzerland in 2012, when 20 per cent of EU citizens cited it as a preferred destination.

The UK also dropped a place in the overall world rankings of desirable work destinations for employers, taking third place, while Canada jumped to second, below the US.

“Recent statistics have shown record numbers of EU nationals working in the UK, and there have been short-term reassurances that EU nationals will have their residency guaranteed until 2019, including nationals who arrive in the next couple of years,” Gerwyn Davies, labour market adviser at the CIPD, told People Management.

“The real concern is more medium term, as we don’t have the details of the government’s plans to introduce migration restrictions post-2019. Assuming there will be some form of migration restriction, this could be when we see the UK’s ability to attract EU nationals to live and work here affected.”

Despite reports last November that the number of EU nationals residing and working in the UK was at a record high, with 2.37 million workers from EU states employed between July and September, recent figures indicate that EU nationals making plans to quit the UK could leave certain sectors understaffed and vulnerable.

A 2017 report from the British Medical Association found that one in five European NHS doctors in the UK were planning to leave the country post-Brexit, leaving the NHS significantly understaffed.

Accounting firm EY predicted that 10,500 UK financial services jobs could be relocated to Europe on the first day of Britain leaving the EU. Creating a longer-term plan for a robust workforce must therefore go beyond talent management fixes, Davies warned.  

“This should be a wake-up call for employers to invest more in skills,” he said. But, he added: “The more fundamental recommendation is that organisations invest in a broader workforce development plan to ensure organisations are fit for the future, offsetting the risks of EU nationals leaving particular occupations in large numbers or the supply of EU nationals drying out, while simultaneously tackling the broader problems of a tight legal market, an ageing workforce and competitive recruitment.  

“Not only have employers been failing to invest in skills, but their outlooks have been confined to talent management strategies without a broader look at the whole workforce – which should include labour shortages as well as skills shortages.

“We must begin to look at alternatives – reviewing everything from instructing to broader recruitment channels. That is why we are calling for a fundamental rethink on how organisations build their workforces.”

In reports submitted to the Government’s Migration Advisory Committee at the close of 2017, organisations including the Institute of Directors (IoD) and the CIPD urged the government to avoid any post-Brexit immigration policies that would cut the flow of immigration to universities, businesses and the public sector.

Two-thirds of the IoD’s members were reported to have at least one employee from outside the UK working in their organisation, while the CIPD warned that more than a third of companies in low-paying industries had hired EU staff after being unable to find UK-born workers.

“UK businesses are already struggling with a skills shortage. The impact of the EU referendum and uncertainty around a new trade deal is likely to make this worse,” Paul Eagland, managing partner at BDO, said. 

“It’s absolutely imperative that the government makes it clear to the world that the UK is still a great place to do business and that we continue to attract the world’s brightest and best to our country.”

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