Six ways to combat the labour challenges of Brexit

4 minute read

More than seven in 10 managers in UK firms think Brexit will make it harder to acquire the skills they need, according to a survey by the Adecco Group. Yet many businesses are ill-prepared to adjust to this new reality

Sian Harrington


Nearly three-quarters of managers in the UK think the country’s decision to leave the European Union will make it harder for organisations operating in Britain to acquire skilled people. Yet one in five do not plan to employ any strategy to tackle Brexit-related skills shortages, according to a survey by global staffing firm Adecco.

Says Alex Fleming, country head and president of staffing and solutions at Adecco Group UK and Ireland: “In order to not just succeed but thrive once the UK leaves the EU, every employer needs to have a plan for how they will address current and potential future talent challenges. Looking to other countries and how they have dealt with labour shortages can help. In Singapore, for example, organisations are being encouraged to create opportunities for older workers, and think about how they can design jobs to help extend their working lives. Thinking about how to attract potentially untapped sources of talent can help futureproof your organisation in the face of any skills gaps -– Brexit related or not."

Here are six tips to help mitigate the impact:

1. Be clear about who you are
In light of potential talent shortages, candidates will be in a stronger position. They will be highly discerning about who they work for, so why would they choose your organisation? Review your employee value proposition (EVP) to ensure you are effectively communicating what it means to work in your organisation. Adecco’s survey shows that more than one in five UK managers (22%) say their employer does not have an EVP, while 37% don’t know one way or the other.

2. Reshape the work
Redesign the way work is done, reallocate resources from areas of low to high demand, and upskill your workforce to be able to flexibly move across different tasks. For example, one NHS Trust is introducing ‘nurse consultants’ and ‘physician associates’ as a means of using less expensive and more available staff to reduce the numbers of doctors and nurses needed.

3. Use technology to mitigate labour shortages
Consider automating tasks where possible. Nearly half (46%) of UK managers have considered automation as a reaction to Brexit-related skills shortages, according to the survey. A separate Adecco Group report on robotics and AI found nearly six in 10 people believing robots will take up the ‘boring’ more mundane roles, leaving the more fun ones for humans. More technology can mean higher engagement and employee-led productivity improvements – ‘liberation technology’ – or it can mean increased monitoring and a sense of trust being undermined – ‘digital Taylorism’. The former is likely to help address immediate talent shortages and also widen talent pools and enhance employer brand.

4. Hold onto your talent
Nearly half of UK managers are already concerned about their staff retention levels even before Brexit, according to the survey. It’s important to understand the existing reasons for staff turnover. Enhancing the whole employee experience, from the initial job advert or approach, through recruitment, induction, experience of work and opportunities for development, is critical to retention. Research finds the key differences between leavers and stayers relate to job content and design, job satisfaction and skill use/development. Offering flexible working and improved work-life balance can also be a major retention tool.

5. Widen the net
If Brexit reduces the overall pool of UK talent, employers should think about whether certain qualifications, such as a degree, are really essential for a role and whether they are unnecessarily restricting their applicant pool. Over-skilled workers are less satisfied and twice as likely to want to quit – a situation employers will want to avoid in a tight post-Brexit market. However, the survey finds only 14% of UK managers have considered relaxing job role requirements to tackle skills shortages. Employers can also consider potential employees from other sectors with transferable skills critical to the job. This can also lead to hiring people who are better able to adapt to the changing skills requirements of the organisation. Yet, the survey found that eight out of 10 UK managers thought industry experience was important when considering a candidate for a role within their organisation. Consider recruiting marginalised groups such as older workers, those with chronic health conditions, the unemployed and ex-offenders. Adjusting the way work is done, supported by technology, can help employers design work for some of these groups so that there is no ‘productivity penalty’ for certain types of work.

Unfortunately, the survey shows only 22% of UK managers have considered changing the roles and process in their business to enable older workers to flourish, while fewer than one in five UK managers would consider candidates from more diverse backgrounds as a strategy to tackle skills shortages created as a result of the decision for Britain to leave the EU.

6. Grow your own
Future-proofing your organisation’s talent supply by growing your own is an obvious solution to reduce reliance on the external market. Upskilling existing staff is already the most likely strategy to address hard-to-fill vacancies but still less than half of UK organisations (47%) are doing it. Employers can take steps to facilitate internal job moves and rotations, helping ensure existing employees develop awareness and understanding of different parts of the business, develop new skills and are enabled to progress within the organisation. For example, the British Council has developed a career pathways framework that shows the degree of stretch that would be required in changing work type and level, and the different skills and behaviours that will be needed. With a huge geographical spread and many specialised jobs, staff need a broad explanation of how their careers could develop.

28 November 2018
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