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UK employers must be innovative to prevent a workforce shortage

The trigger of Article 50 on 29 March 2017 will inevitably serve as a wakeup call to many UK employers who rely on EU workers to bridge gaps in their workforce.

In the three months following the Brexit vote in June 2016, the number of non UK, EU nationals working in the UK has halved from an average of over 60,000 per quarter to only 30,000 per quarter. The worry is that that trend will continue now the Brexit process has officially commenced, with little guidance as to what protections are likely to be in place for EU workers remaining or wanting to enter the UK.

The food supply chain, manufacturing, healthcare and hospitality are sectors that heavily rely on workers from the EU because such jobs are unattractive to UK nationals and are most likely to be affected.

Earlier this month, Pret a Manger’s director of human resources, Andrea Wareham, told a parliamentary committee that only one in 50 applicants to the company are British. She allegedly said that 65% of the high street chain’s workforce is from EU countries and Pret a Manger would struggle to find enough staff if it were forced to “turn its back” on EU nationals post Brexit.

Immigration expert, Padma Tadi, an Associate at Irwin Mitchell, said both the Government and businesses need to start thinking about creative and innovative solutions to change attitude towards work in certain industries by UK nationals, to make jobs usually filled by EU workers, more attractive to them.

Equally, in sectors which rely on the specialist skills brought by EU workers, organisations must consider how they can incentivise such workers to enter and remain in the UK, despite any potentially cumbersome requirements which may need to be met to do so.

This can be done in a number of ways, such as clear career progression plans, benefits packages, bonuses, but of course, this will come at some financial cost to the organisation.

Another option is for organisations to target school leavers and promote opportunities to rise up the ranks in such less desirable industries.

With the advent of the apprenticeship levy, the timing could not be better for large employers to start thinking about creating apprenticeship opportunities, in the hope that the structure that they can offer will make the roles more appealing to UK workers.

Padma recommends that In-house Counsel undertake assessments within their relevant business units to identify to what extent there is a reliance on EU workers and understand what motivates staff in its particular industry. It is only with this understanding that a proper plan can be put in place to cope with the changes to the immigration laws and changes caused by the recent Brexit decision, in sufficient time to avoid their being a skills gaps in the workforce, either now or in the future either through recruitment and retention of foreign staff or relying upon British expertise.

Padma Tadi – Associate

Published: 21 April 2017

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