Amid a contracting supply of domestic skilled workers, EU talent has become a critical component of the UK business landscape. But as the country negotiates to leave the EU, this labour pipeline is now under threat. Businesses must be careful to not fall foul of discrimination laws as they try to protect their position.
According to the Office for National Statistics, more than two million EU migrants were working in the UK in 2016, comprising around 7 per cent of the employed workforce. A tightening of EU migration rules could significantly undermine this labour supply, and intensify competition for talent.
The effects are already being noticed - employers have told the CIPD that they are receiving fewer job applications from EU nationals, adding that recruitment competition has increased over the past year. As details of the UK’s exit conditions become clearer, these impacts could intensify.
Employers must now reconsider how they can attract and recruit workers. There are signs that some are looking to increase domestic recruitment to protect themselves against any potential changes to EU migration law. However, HR practitioners must be mindful that they are not discriminating when selecting candidates for interview. The usual rules apply, despite any hiring difficulties that may arise.
Shortlisting should always be carried out objectively and consistently, taking good care to compare each application with the person specification. Deliberately overlooking EU applications would be considered active discrimination, which would land employers with fines from £600 to £30,000.
Plugging the gap
How can employers ensure they have a robust supply of workers in the medium to long-term? Sometimes this will come down to making a position more appealing, such as revisiting contracts or salary packages or overhauling the employer brand to demonstrate values and vision. In other cases, widening the talent search pool could offer a good solution.
In recent years, some employers have turned their attention to under-represented groups, such as women returners, ex-military personnel or the long-term unemployed. Halfords and Timpson, for example, are among those that have started employing ex-offenders. By offering training and qualifications, companies can fill vacant positions, and offer ex-offenders a fresh start.
Internships or work experience can also help to develop a company’s talent pipeline. Middle market firms are behind the curve when it comes to offering early career entry points: the CIPD shows that half of large businesses pursue the option, compared to less than a quarter of SMEs. By closing the gap, middle market firms can access a steady supply of young workers, and bring fresh thinking into their organisations.
The process of recruiting can start even sooner, with some companies choosing to develop strong links with local colleges. Most colleges have employability contacts; by making early connections with students, employers can tap into local talent before anyone else.
Businesses can also partner with youth organisations. The Prince’s Trust, for example, helps vulnerable young people unlock their potential, and in exchange for a little support, it can help employers find the right employees. Engaging organisations like this can help employers source candidates they may not have had access to before and deliver important corporate responsibility benefits too.
Overall, Brexit will have huge ramifications for how and who businesses recruit in the future. Finding the right skills from a diminishing pool of talent will be tough enough, let alone attracting them to your organisation. Those that act now will reap the biggest rewards.