IT recruitment and the referendum

19 June 2016

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Clearly, it would be inappropriate to proffer any political views here, let alone advocate Brexit or Remain, but I believe it is right that Be-IT should pass some comment on the one subject that is dominating the news agenda here in the UK.

Honestly, I have tried to make sense of the various arguments put forward by the different sides of the debate. However, it’s difficult not to agree with the House of Commons Cross-party committee of MPs' report, which wholeheartedly castigated the 'misleading' referendum campaigns of both sides. As Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative chair of the committee, said: “The arms race of ever more lurid claims and counter-claims made by both the leave and remain sides is not just confusing the public – it is impoverishing political debate.”

Seeking enlightenment, I Googled various relevant search strings, using terms such as `HR, and Brexit, HR and Remain, recruitment and the referendum, referendum effect on business” etc. That didn’t help much. The ratio of opinion to fact seems to be about 100:1.  I may be exaggerating, but you get my point: when you drill down into many of the issues it’s hard to know what the precise effects of Leaving or Remaining will be, other than the acknowledgement by all parties that in the event of a Leave vote things will change – either permanently and for the worse (if you are pro-Remain) or temporarily followed by improvements (if you are pro-Leave).  Of course, it’s always possible we could Remain and things will change too.

As far as recruitment is concerned, overall it definitely seems to be slowing prior to the referendum, although as far as Be-IT is concerned, we are still experiencing heavy demand for our services. However, most commentators from within the recruitment industry suggest that Brexit would have a detrimental impact on jobs. That said, in my opinion, and irrespective of the outcome, there are three key things we need to consider/maintain/improve in the immediate aftermath of the vote:

Labour Mobility – cross border mobility has been highly beneficial for many businesses in the UK.  The ability for any (IT) worker, whether shop floor or director-level, to move freely across the borders of the world is undoubtedly a good thing when it brings us new talent and entrepreneurs who create new businesses and jobs.  Irrespective of the result of the referendum, it’s vital that we allow the right people to enter our country and work here. But who are the ‘right’ people?  Which brings me on to…

Skills shortages – the UK, like many other countries, has severe skills shortages, especially in areas such as IT, engineering and the STEM subjects generally.  What will be the impact of us leaving or remaining on our ability to attract and hire people with the skills we need from wherever in the world they are now living and working? Research carried out on behalf of the FT suggests that the impact could be considerable.  How will visas operate in the event of Brexit – will we recognise the value in accepting skilled people from outside Europe more than we do now? Put simply, we need to do far more here and, while it is regularly revised, the distinctions between the various Tiers for visas (which, of course, only apply to applications from outwith Europe) should be looked at again, especially Tier 2, which only applies to applicants who have a job-offer from a firm in the UK. This is particularly important in the digital industries where the UK is currently a real powerhouse, but if we don’t take the right steps now could go the same way as so many industries where we once held a lead (think of the early days of computers, electronics, even going back as far as heavy engineering and steel production).

Employment law – we have a different approach to hiring and firing from other European countries (the recent strikes in France over proposed changes to employment law being an obvious example). A good summary of the arguments can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/jhzmv3l although be aware that while it’s possible to be fairly sure of the likely outcome in the event of Brexit, no-one is prepared to be 100% certain.  That said, nothing would change in the short-term, and this sort of stability (whether we stay or go) is what recruiters and their clients want.

One thing we can be certain of is that most people will vote with more than a degree of self-interest.  That is understandable and to be expected (nor should it be criticised unduly). The reality is that we simply do not know what will happen in the EU after the referendum, whether we stay or go. A major geo-political crisis could explode, causing whoever is in charge to have to rethink everything.  Alternatively, things may just get better, whoever wins, in which case all the hue and cry of the last few months will be seen to have been totally unnecessary! 

 

 

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