VIEW: On post-Brexit migration restrictions

There is a very real risk that post-Brexit migration restrictions will cause skill shortages and recruitment challenges for UK-based employers at a critical time during their post-lockdown recovery. For most organisations, their overwhelming focus during the past three months has been on the pandemic and how to deal with the acute short-term challenges it has presented. However, this has come at the expense of longer-term planning.

The concern now is that many employers are unaware of the government’s post-Brexit immigration plan and are unprepared to manage the risks it presents. With only five months left of the EU Withdrawal Bill transitional period, few organisations will have put in place measures to prepare for increased restrictions on access to EU skills and labour. Whilst the potential disruption to cross-border trade was the focus of pre-pandemic media attention, the reality is that many employers are more likely to be impacted through their workforce.

According to the CIPD, over half of UK employers currently employ EU citizens. EU migrants are a valuable source of labour at all skill levels, especially where there is difficulty attracting sufficient numbers of UK candidates. The government’s current immigration white paper sets out a post-Brexit immigration policy that treats EU and non-EU migrants on the same basis (ie. removing the freedom of movement provisions of the single market). Employers will face new costs and extra administration if they want to employ skilled EU migrants, there will be more uncertainty, and their ability to act and react will be reduced.

To avoid risk, employers need to build a clear understanding of their current workforce and their evolving workforce needs. Workforce planning in this context is paramount. Workforce data and analytics will become more important than ever before. For example, people analytics (to understand the size, composition and competencies within the workforce), talent acquisition (to understand new sources of labour supply), and organisation network analysis (to understand where communication and knowledge reside in the workforce) are all tools that employers can use to help understand, plan and navigate their way through the transition.

Ultimately, organisations that have a better understanding of their workforce, are clear on their evolving needs, and who can prepare for both short and long-term shifts in the supply of labour, will be better placed to grow throughout the recovery period and beyond.

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