With Brexit just around the corner, UK tech workers are concerned about the future. British employers feel less confident in recruiting from abroad since the Brexit vote and are fearful that the restriction of workers’ movement across the EU will inhibit business and result in Britain’s innovation economy being less competitive globally. Even though changes to laws that were once determined by the Union will take years, many are already speculating Brexit’s impact on the UK tech sector. Bearing this in mind, how can businesses plan ahead and avoid disruption by making sure they have the right talent?
For Gordon Smith, Country Manager at Hired, the issue of Brexit is at the forefront of his mind. Founded in 2012, Hired helps employers across EMEA attract and hire the very best Tech candidates in a far more efficient and cost-effective way. But with one in ten UK workers coming from outside of the UK according to the office for National Statistics, how will Brexit affect the recruitment of talent? Despite the Prime Minister Theresa May recently announcing the ongoing support for technology innovation across the UK by doubling the number of available visas and making various investments in the tech sector, totaling £81 million there still remains a massive skills shortage in the tech industry.
Despite the skills shortage in the UK, Gordon Smith believes that there are vital steps that decision-makers can make ahead of Brexit to avoid disruption. “Employees (both existing team members and potential new hires) will be concerned and more wary than they were previously about staying or moving to the UK’’ says Smith. ‘‘Therefore it’s important to have a plan on how you communicate that your organisation cares about individual workers and will support them as much as possible.
No-one is in a position to make cast-iron guarantees to employees, because we just don’t know exactly what restrictions will be put in place. But regardless, companies would be wise to show their employees that they care, and they want to support them.
It’s a thoughtful gesture that could help you both retain existing staff and hire new employees in a fragile market.”
Recent statistical information gathered by Hired show that UK tech firms are recruiting fewer foreign workers. And quite worryingly, the majority of UK tech workers have considered leaving the country because of Brexit, which Gordon believes is a major problem for the UK because Britain does not produce enough of the Technology talent required to power businesses ourselves.
Currently, around one-third of Technology workers in the UK are from elsewhere in the EU. The tech sector is growing twice as fast as the wide UK economy so it’s important to the economy that we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot and stifle such a rapidly growing industry. Put simply, if we can’t hire foreign workers, companies will fail as they will not be able to hire the talent they need locally.
Given it’s such an uncertain time in the UK, and technology workers are in demand, it is not surprising they are more open to leaving the country. Amsterdam, Berlin and Lisbon – to name just a few – are all rapidly growing technology hubs that can offer similar career opportunities to UK companies without the uncertainty that comes with a looming Brexit.”
Research shows that in Q1 of 2016, 40% of foreign tech workers accepted offers from UK firms on the Hired platform, but following the Brexit vote this plummeted to just 30% and in Q3 of this year only recovered to 34%. Many fear that Brexit could negatively impact innovation in terms of restricting workers movement across the EU. However, Gordon believes that CIO and CTO’s can still encourage innovation in this climate of negativity and uncertainty. He said: “Innovation tends to come from the culture and environment that is created by an organisation that encourages employees to think creatively and have the confidence to bring new ideas to the table and take intelligent risk.
Diversity is a key part of this: It’s important to have employees from different backgrounds with different perspectives to help innovate. Brexit could impact how easy it is to do this, therefore ensuring that you have a clear strategy on hiring diversely is critical if innovation is important to you.
So, how should CIOs respond to the increasing need for the UK’s tech sector to rely on homegrown talent in the wake of Brexit, especially as there is a shortage of suitable candidates? Gordon believes that this is a hugely complex issue that starts within higher education where the number of Computer Science students graduating each year has barely grown in the last 10 years.
“I think companies need to start being more open to taking on apprentices (leveraging the new levy that is available to organisations) and having training programmes in place that will enable them to hire less experienced candidates that have the desire to learn. The key thing is to try and find a balance of experience within a team, it offers more experienced team members the opportunity to lead and mentor (which they may have had to leave to find otherwise) and increases the likelihood of junior candidates staying with you longer as you have invested in their career development”.
While reflecting on future trends, Gordon states that Brexit has the potential to impact an organisation’s success so access to the right talent is the most important. “The technology sector is hoping that the government continues to recognise the role it plays in the UK economy and how important the right talent is to its success. Theresa May has recently announced some positive measures that point towards this recognition – but our data would suggest it doesn’t come close to bridging the gap between supply and demand that is forecast over the coming years. The whole tech industry needs to come together to continue to highlight the challenges that lie ahead and ensure the government doesn’t hinder the incredible growth and innovation UK tech companies have demonstrated over recent years”.