On Christmas Eve, Britain and the EU agreed a trade deal that relieved most but may not have pleased as many.
And now – just over a month since Boris Johnson claimed the new deal brought ‘stability’ and ‘certainty’ to the country – we are starting to see some of the repercussions.
Northern Ireland is suffering from food shortages, musicians are up in arms about restrictions on free movement, and the owner of an international shipping company admitted that getting EU hauliers to come to Britain has been ‘absolute carnage’.
Just last week, the fishing industry – long cited as a sector which would thrive post-Brexit – staged a protest outside Westminster, with lorries holding up traffic emblazoned with ‘incompetent government destroying shellfish industry’.
However, food shortages, limitations on travel, and disruptions in the movement of goods are the immediate ramifications of Brexit. There are plenty more pervasive, subtle repercussions for businesses which will only become evident over time, such as the proliferation of skills shortages and difficulties in recruiting talent from Europe.
The likelihood of skills shortages in Brexit Britain
Napoleon once said Britain is a ‘nation of shopkeepers’, and while that may no longer be true – we have a diverse economy, filled with different sectors – there is one skills area that Brits, on the whole, lack when compared to the rest of the continent: digital skills.
Part of this is down to an education system where you learn about the Tudors, igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks, the Tudors again, and wave formations, but spend little time on the thing that binds the modern world together: technology.
As a result, post-Brexit Britain could find itself left behind and, with 37% of jobs expected to alter significantly in the next five years the Government must act now to address this looming skills crisis.
How the Government can support the UK labour market
The Government must invest in equipping Brits with the hands-on skills to code and build digital services – the very skills that recruiters and businesses value and will be looking out for in the near future.
This could be achieved through a three-step approach: firstly, help people identify if they have the aptitude to code, secondly, provide meaningful accredited part-time, full-time, remote, in-person, and in-school coding and digital skills courses, and finally, offer financial support incentives to get people to take the courses.
Although this may sound like a short-term financial hit, it is actually future-proofing our labour market as the long-term outcome will be more Brits in high-skilled employment and a workforce teeming with in-demand digital skills.
Business recruitment strategies in a post-COVID post-Brexit world
In the coming months, the Government will call on businesses to play their part in the post-Brexit economy and focus on hiring British workers. However, for the reasons already mentioned, they could struggle in sourcing talent with the rights skills and may inevitably need to look further afield. Yet, this is when they may run into difficulties.
For many businesses, in sectors as diverse as agriculture, health, hospitality, finance, and professional services, Brexit represents a turning-off of vital overseas talent streams. While much of the impact has been masked by COVID – and the dampening down of demand – when the pandemic passes, this talent gap will be evident.
There are two ways businesses can respond: attract new talent into your industry by harnessing your and your employee’s networks; adopt flexible practices to recruit international talent.
On the first point, you should ask your existing staff or communities to discover and recommend talent for you. Your staff and your diverse professional networks know what the job requires and are the best placed to judge who can either do the job or who has the potential to do it.
By proactively asking for recommendations, you are allowing your team to invite people in and share roles within a more diverse professional and personal backgrounds. You can specifically target the skills and communities that you – and your employees – are wanting to hire from.
Once you’ve demonstrated that you have exhausted local sources, then you should begin searching for talent overseas. Workers’ rights post-Brexit are still unclear; however, businesses will likely need to adopt a flexible mindset if they are to source the right talent.
The pandemic has shown how seamlessly businesses and workers can transition to remote-working and this is a route businesses could explore if they are looking to hire overseas talent post-Brexit. For the worker, this may mean that they are not characterised as an employee or are associated with a non-UK office. In the digital world, this practice is commonplace, with many development teams being based in Eastern Europe or beyond.
Brexit was never a fundamentally economic project. It tugged at the heart not at the mind, with the rhetoric evoking a sense of nostalgia for a Britain pre-1973. However, the problem is that nostalgia leaves you pining for a past that is never coming back, and thus, can put you on the backfoot when it comes to new modern skills, such as digital skills and coding. The Government must seek to address this skills gap by funding training which in the long-term will create a labour market full of in-demand skills.