Sector leaders express concern over Brexit workforce disruption

5th December 2018

The Brexit negotiations will undoubtedly affect industry sectors in different ways with supply chain being a key consideration for manufacturers, and increased use of technology an attractive option within construction. But the one constant cause for concern amongst all the sector leaders we’ve been speaking with is that of their people.

How to manage the disruption of Brexit to the workforce cuts across all businesses of all sizes in all sectors within the UK, and is an issue that will remain at the forefront of our minds long after a deal is in motion.

According to business representatives the health and social care sector seems to be ‘sleepwalking’ into a staffing disaster.

Steve Mills, consultant to adult social care providers tells us: “The interruption to migrant labour associated with Brexit and the fact that the UK is now seen as a less attractive place for people from Europe to come and work in social care presents a lot of risk and uncertainty for providers who will find it increasingly difficult to find the people they need to run their services sustainably.”

Indeed Frank Myers, chair of Herefordshire’s Business Board believes that agricultural businesses will also suffer: “There are many large agricultural businesses within Herefordshire and I see serious labour challenges for them. We have rehearsed the labour argument many times and always arrive at the same conclusion – it just simply isn’t going to be possible to fulfil the workforce needs of the sector from UK labour. The need to import labour is a serious problem.”

But it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom.

Many of the fears over labour shortages seem to focus on the fact that fewer EU workers will have access to jobs in the UK, but that doesn’t acknowledge that the UK would be seen as more open to workers from non-EU countries.

It is likely that the transition period will give businesses time to adjust to the loss of access to the EU pool of workers and decide on a way forward that works for them.

Businesses should take the opportunity to consider how to make themselves more attractive to the UK and indeed the worldwide workforce. One way to do this is by using training and apprenticeships. This is a view shared by Gary Woodman, CEO of the Worcestershire LEP who said: “I think businesses really need to think about their workforce and their skills in terms of how they train their staff and what that looks like beyond the impact of Brexit. Therefore searching and retaining talent is going to be one of the big issues in 2019.”

Our takeaway is that businesses from all sectors will have more flexibility in regards to finding and recruiting their people, but they will need to plan ahead and see the changes as an opportunity to reassess what, and who, they need.