Preparing for Recruitment Post-Brexit

We have been focusing on problems caused by Covid-19, but this is another issue waiting in the wings that needs to be addressed before it is too late.  If you have traditionally relied upon recruiting EU nationals in the past, the changes that will follow when the Brexit transition period is over may mean that you need to change your approach to finding new staff.

Last year fewer than half of those entering the UK were Europeans.  A report published by the Migration Observatory suggests that the declining trend is likely to continue as it has done since the Referendum.  What can you do about to prepare for this change in the pool of available applicants?

Q How can employers go about attracting UK-based talent? Does this mean the employer offer/value proposition becomes more important? Does the current economic situation make this more feasible?

A Once the post-Brexit transition period has expired, UK employers are going to find it more difficult to source the employees they need than has been the case in recent years. That might seem counter-intuitive given that we have very high levels of unemployment following the Covid-19 pandemic, but the issue is finding the right people for the right jobs. Many of those who were made redundant as a result of Coronavirus were those in lower-paid, unskilled jobs directly impacted by the lockdown restrictions in sectors such as hospitality and non-essential retail.

Already we have seen a reduction in the numbers of more highly qualified professional staff who have typically flowed into the UK from the EU. Businesses will therefore no longer be able rely on that pool of talent and will have to look more closely at UK based applicants. The recent experience of reductions in salaries and periods of furlough will have affected how employees think about jobs and will be looking for roles that appear to be more secure and less likely to be affected in the same way. It means that headline salary will not be the most important factor. Applicants will be scrutinising the whole package with regards to flexible working options, travel requirements and employee benefits. Other perks such as income protection policies might become more popular.

Q Should organisations be thinking more about developing existing talent or recruiting/training those with less experience who can learn on the job?

A Absolutely. Developing and training existing staff and taking on more junior staff with the intention of growing them is by far the most cost-effective way to ensure that a business has the right people. If employers have time to grow and nurture their talent, then recruiting for aptitude, potential and attitude is far more effective than bringing in someone who has the required skills, but who may not have quite the same values or behaviours that they want in their business. Changing someone’s behaviours and attitude is notoriously difficult to do.

Having a talent development programme will ensure that employers have a pipeline of skilled staff and that will make the succession planning process more robust. It will also demonstrate that the business values its staff and the commitment shown is likely to reduce turnover – which in turn will reduce recruitment costs. After all, making the wrong recruitment decision at senior levels can be very expensive. This is not measured just with regards to the agency and potential settlement agreement fees, but the investment of time and energy in managing a proper induction process, as well as the time spent waiting for an employee to become fully productive.

Q How else can employers respond, such as investing in technology or working harder to retain staff?

A We have all become reliant on IT during the Covid-19 lockdown particularly in regard to videoconferencing platforms and using business IT networks remotely. Even those companies who had previously been reluctant to allow staff to work from home have been forced to adapt and some have been pleasantly surprised at how well this has worked. This has changed the work expectation landscape. Many who have been able to work from home have realised how much more productive they can be if they do not have to endure lengthy commutes into the office. Some will argue that it damages teamworking, but with careful planning to factor in team days, creating a new way of working where presenteeism is not valued as highly as productivity is likely to be more attractive to some candidates.

The old adage that people join companies but leave managers still holds true and so investing in management training so that they are skilled at supporting and mentoring their staff as well as applying policies fairly and consistently will go a long way to improve staff retention rates.

Employers should also think about widening the pool of potential recruits. Studies have shown that adjusting the wording of adverts can encourage people from under-represented sectors to improve their levels of diversity. For example, Thames Water has recently reported an increase in the number of women applying for manual frontline roles in sewage plant maintenance when they removed words like “confident”, “competition” and “champion” from their job adverts because these were seen as more masculine traits. The new wording referred to the role being, “an excellent opportunity to make a real impact on the delivery of wholesome water.” It resulted in the proportion of women applying increasing dramatically from 8% to 46%.

Q Are there any other aspects of the recruitment process which might be impacted that are not listed above?

A Only large employers who are able to put in place the required sponsorship processes to take on overseas staff are likely to be able to continue doing that because of the more onerous conditions. It may become too difficult or costly for smaller employers and so they will be restricted in their choice of applicants. This means that they will have to become more imaginative in sourcing their UK staff – whether that be by widening their searches or using creative social media campaigns.

Businesses will also need to focus on making sure their Right to Work in the UK checks are done correctly. Up until now and during the transition phase, those with EU passports have the right to work in the UK. This will start to change depending on whether those employees have applied for a right to settle in the UK. The list of documents required will therefore change and employers will have to ensure that they are aware of the requirements. This will not just apply to applicants but to members of staff already employed, so will need to be tackled sensitively by employers in a supportive way to minimise the risk of potential claims of discrimination.

Businesses should seek input from their HR Advisers to help them formulate their recruitment policy and strategy well before the end of the Brexit transition phase, so that they are ready for the changes when they finally appear.
Posted on 23 Jun 2020
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