When the UK vote to leave the European Union was cast, the makeup of the British labor force was a major issue in many people’s minds. Over 2 million people from European Union countries work in the UK. They have been able to work in the UK largely because of Britain’s membership in the EU which eased requirements still applied to workers outside of the EU and the Commonwealth.
No one knows exactly what is going to happen as Britain begins its exodus from the EU, but if the departure fails to recognize certain long-held agreements, many of those EU nationals living and working in the UK may be asked to return home, and many UK workers and retirees may be asked to return to the UK. Negotiations could also lead to a more reasonable transition, and a continuation of shared labor agreements.
But if the underlying issue of work immigration remains a major influence on policy, it may prove politically difficult for the UK government and businesses to continue to employ foreign citizens in UK-based jobs. The loss of this talent would leave UK businesses with a deeper skills shortage than they already face, and place the UK at a global disadvantage for companies in countries who can attract younger, more aligned talent. One approach, as this 18 February 2016 article from The Guardian How can the UK overcome a national skills shortage? Think local suggests is to form partnerships between universities and business in order to better align programs with local skill needs.
But there is another approach that will likely be a stop gap, even if more radical domestic policy reform takes hold: hiring talented people virtually from other countries.
While many companies already outsource some of their roles, Brexit could drive additional needs. Those needs will only be fulfilled, however, if people have the right technical and business skills and can communicate well with English-speaking managers and customers.
Countries like India already have strong ties to the UK and have been leveraging their UK relationships to open doors in the EU. The result of the vote could lead to even deeper ties between Indian and the UK as Indian businesses concentrate on UK opportunities (a 2015 Grant Thorton Study, India meets Britain, places Indian-company employment in the UK at 110,000).
The only thing that is really known about the result of Brexit at this point is that it has created a two-year horizon of uncertainty for UK businesses. One of the best ways to shore up uncertainty is to take action that brings near-term stability. If the foreign worker status is in doubt, hiring virtual workers to complement them is an action that won’t be affected by Brexit. If the foreign workers stay or go, those brought on virtually who perform well, will likely find a way to remain valuable to the businesses they support. But that all hinges on technically-savvy workers around the world being ready to tap the British talent need by knowing the language that drives UK commerce…English.
Karine Allouche Salanon
Senior Vice President, General Manager
Pearson English Business Solutions