No self-respecting HR-Blog or Business-Blog could ignore what happened yesterday when Theresa May triggered Article 50 with a landmark letter which has now made the process of exiting the European Union irreversible.
How will the negotiation proceed and what the final deal will be nobody can tell at this point but for sure this will have some kind of effect on immigration and the make up of foreign workers and consequently the skills landscape within the UK.
What we do know so far, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), is that the number of EU nationals working in the UK fell in the last quarter of 2016 by 50,000 to 2.3 million in the final three months of last year adding to fears of a skills shortage. The data from the ONS however also showed that there were still 190,000 more EU nationals working in Britain than during the same period a year earlier and 42,000 more non-EU nationals in work, with a rise of 70,000 of employed UK nationals.
So, although the continuous news coverage and the different political agendas are talking about doom and gloom perpetuating a sense of insecurity, the statistics are showing perhaps the beginning of a recalibration with international and national talent.
It is understandable that EU workers in 41% of British businesses have expressed some concern about their right to work in the UK after the exit from the EU and 5% of companies have seen resignations following the referendum, data from a survey of the British Chamber of Commerce.
There is pressure from various political parties and public opinion to guarantee the rights to EU nationals unilaterally and, from a human point view, I definitely emphatise, heck I am of european origin so I do understand. However I also believe than no PM worth respecting should neglect their duty which is to first protect British citizens abroad.
From simply a skill point of view let's face it highly skilled professional staff are a valuable asset and ways can be found around immigration rules of any kind, pre and post Brexit.
The bigger issue would be around low skilled work/migration which is likely to cause the most problems and will require more flexibility from employers and more reasonable expectations.
I believe that proactive workforce planning will be crucial for businesses and building a talent profile needs to start now with more varied people development avenues to address and raise the skill gap.
Business (and HR) need to:
- tackle the supply of candidates
- consider wider demographics
- provide a blend of skills (Apprenticeship with no age restrictions?) creating intergenerational training
- re-skill individuals and prioritise local talent which might become non-negotiable in time.
Employers will need to explore all recruitment channels and look at under-utilised groups.
There is a big world out there and, although it mights be problematic in the short term, Brexit could be very exciting in terms of exploring the wealth of worldwide talents outside the EU - controlled immigration does not mean no immigration after all.
For me even more exciting would be a proactive coordinated effort between private and public sector, education and government to create a flexible, modular and scalable workforce/education and a consequent VISA allowance plan to address shortages in the country, plan which is regularly reviewed and amended as needed.
Brexit will be the biggest HR Transformation programme ever which, if used effectively, could turn on its head all old paradigms about employment , employability - who can do what - and that could be really exciting .