Workforce planning, including adapting to a widened talent pool, rebooting recruitment practices and looking after existing workers, should be a priority for businesses as the end of the Brexit transition period approaches, according to Barclays industry experts.
The government has this year committed billions of pounds to helping individuals and organisations to tackle the UK’s longstanding labour shortage and skills gap, which have been thrown into sharp relief by the pandemic and are likely to be impacted further by the end of the free movement of labour.
Businesses across all sectors will also need to consider how new Home Office rules on visas and immigration will impact their workforce – including being aware of the new points-based immigration system which will take effect from 1 January and ensuring that their European employees take advantage of the EU Settlement Scheme which is available until 30 June.
Thorough workforce planning, coupled with analysis of the impact of the end of the transition period on the sectors in which their clients operate, will allow businesses large and small to be in the best position to tackle the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. John Ainsworth, National Head of Real Estate at Barclays Business Banking, says: “You should be asking, ‘What worries my workforce?’
“Is there a risk of labour movement potentially back into Europe? That could create a skills gap.” It’s also important, he emphasises, for businesses to consider the impact of the end of the Brexit transition period on the sectors in which their clients operate: “Think about your client base and how they could potentially be exposed to the impact of Brexit: the businesses that they are employed by and the impact that might have.”
Widening your talent pool
Attracting labour to the UK agriculture sector has been a challenge for farmers, explains Mark Suthern, Barclays’ National Head of Agriculture. While the implications of a trade deal with the EU or non-negotiated outcome for the agriculture sector remain unknown, Suthern says the Brexit vote has clearly impacted the market.
“Farmers that do need to have a picking force or have relied on Eastern European migrant labour need to start thinking, ‘What do I do next?’. One of the unintended consequences of coronavirus is that we saw the attempts at creating a sort of land army. One of the other unintended consequences of coronavirus is rising unemployment. I think, if I was a farming business looking to recruit people, what you'll now find is that the talent pool has increased. And there will be people who could well be attracted to some of the variety of roles.”
Suthern says that farmers need to help change some of the misconceptions around working in agriculture in order to attract UK talent, letting jobseekers know about the range of exciting and varied opportunities that are available, especially those involving technology and data.
“As a sector, we need to sell the benefits of working in agriculture. What you'll find now if you look at the inside of a tractor cab is that you’re sitting in a hub of technology: GPS, iPads. Get them on the farm and sell how exciting it is, and people will come and join.”
Adjusting recruitment and retainment strategies
Tony Reynolds, Head of Public Sector and Health at Barclays Business Banking, says the end of the Brexit transition period could exacerbate the challenges around workforce recruitment in health and social care.
“Traditionally, a lot of staff have come from Eastern Europe and have provided a vital chain of experienced people,” he says. “It’s obviously going to drive costs up as there are many operators using agencies that are providing emergency staffing because recruitment is difficult in the UK.
“Given the huge emphasis on staffing, I think it’s difficult not to draw parallels to coronavirus. We’ve all seen the stress and the pressure – and the fantastic job as well – that care homes have taken on in the last six or seven months. It’s always been seen as an unskilled job, and it very much isn’t.”
Steve Fergus, Head of Healthcare at Barclays Corporate Banking, adds that while smaller care operators may not take staff from Europe, “larger ones probably all have EU nationals employed” – and those bigger companies have already started extending their talent search to other parts of the world since the vote to leave the European Union in 2016.
“A lot of companies have got more focused on staff retention because they know the pool of people from which they can select is going to reduce once we exit the European Union. As soon as the vote happened, we started to see a net reduction in migration from the European Union into the UK. That continued and the pool of people to recruit from has already reduced.
“Larger corporates have been taking steps ever since to mitigate the impact this will have and work out how they’re going to fill vacancies going forward. These businesses are used to material impacts from external areas like general elections and referendums and random changes of budget, such as national living wages going up. They’re used to shocks and impacts so they've had quite a bit of time to deal with this.”
Asked how businesses can better prepare for a deal or non-negotiated outcome, Fergus says the most obvious step is to look at recruitment and retention strategies, including “getting better at thinking about your recruitment policy from the UK, trying to offer existing staff better incentives to stay within the companies they work for. So, offering training, promotion pathways, the apprenticeship schemes that care companies have been utilising.”
Keeping the UK competitive
Attracting the best global talent to the UK is crucial in keeping the UK competitive and driving innovation within various sectors. This rings especially true for the entrepreneurial community, says Juliet Rogan, Head of High Growth and Entrepreneurs Coverage.
“I don’t think anyone should underestimate the competitive advantages that can be gained from attracting new entrepreneurs,” she says.
“We’re still completely unclear what shape or form Brexit is going to take. But the more freedom of labour and the more access to talent and skills that businesses have the better – it can only serve the UK well.”
That’s why, explains Rogan, government and businesses need to “continue to double down on making sure the UK is probably the most competitive and attractive country for anyone who has the ambition to build and grow and scale innovation comfortably”.
She adds that “access to talent has always been a key focus with or without Brexit” – and that it’s important that organisations continue to support bringing the best talent from around the world to the UK.
Sean Duffy, Head of Technology, Media and Telecoms says that the end of free movement of labour will also impact businesses in the creative industries, with attracting talent a main issue facing clients. “The flow of talent back into the UK – we don't know how that's going to get disrupted,” he says.
“The last six months kind of hit home for all companies within the creative sector, regardless of Brexit. Whatever happens with Brexit, everyone now knows they need to be prepared for any scenario because obviously no one was expecting a global pandemic either,” adds Gavin Smith, Relationship Director for Tech and Media at Barclays Business Banking.
He emphasises that while the full impact of Brexit on the UK workforce remains unknown, Barclays is ready to help its customers and clients: “We continue to keep an eye on things and we’re learning as we go about the effects on different industries. We’ll try to move with the times and make sure we’re being as supportive as possible.”