Andrew Murphy, managing director at Boss Training, takes a closer look at the potential UK worker crisis following Brexit, and highlights some of steps to minimise the disruption to businesses.
Brexit is widely being blamed for the biggest worker shortage that the UK has seen for over 30 years, and there is good reason for this. With EU nationals already beginning to leave the UK, there is an expectation that a significant number of skilled workers within construction, engineering and manufacturers will begin leaving the UK ahead of January 2021, when the government plan to implement new restrictions on EU immigration.
A recent study by the CIPD (the professional body for HR specialists) found that most UK firms are ‘not ready’ for the post-Brexit drop in workers from the European Union from 2021, with over half of the companies in the UK being unaware of the proposed restrictions on EU immigration. Along with this, there are a huge amount of companies that say they do not have enough information from the government to start putting a plan in place for when changes do begin to take effect.
In the construction, engineering and manufacturing sectors, many firms will recruit EU migrants due to a shortage of skilled UK-born applicants, and this is the case for the vast majority of industries across the country. However, there is a genuine fear that the UK construction, engineering and manufacturing industries will struggle to fill the spaces left by EU migrants, as there is a severe lack of skilled British nationals capable of stepping into these roles.
One significant issue facing the construction, engineering and manufacturing industries at the moment is the requirement for any ‘experienced’ foreign worker requiring a salary of at least £30,000 per year to earn the right to work within the UK. Calls have been made by many firms across the industries to lower this figure, with the average salary for most skilled manufacturing and engineering workers sitting at around £28,000 per year. Along with this, employers are keen for the government to introduce a two-year visa system aimed at unskilled workers looking to come to the UK, with no requirement on minimum earnings to ensure that the labour shortage is not as significant as many fear it will be.
It’s worth noting that even before Brexit threatened to see the number of migrant workers drop, there has been a shortage of skilled workers across the construction, engineering and manufacturing industries for some time now. The pressure of losing even more skilled workers over the next two years have prompted some businesses to take immediate action, preparing for the worst. If your business hasn’t stepped up its preparations for the inevitable shortage of EU workers within the UK, then now is definitely the time to act, to ensure minimal disruption to business operations and your customers.
Keeping your business operating at close to normal levels during the coming months and years is obviously of paramount importance. Whilst there is little the industry can do to affect the decisions government makes at this stage, it’s worth noting that businesses can take steps to help preserve their output and productivity, even with a worker shortage set to hit the industry harder than ever before in the next couple of years. Here are just a few simple steps your business can take to minimise the effects of the EU worker shortage following Brexit.
Begin up-skilling current workers
It’s well worth putting your current workers on training courses now to ensure they have all the necessary skills to succeed within their role. By upskilling your current workforce, you may not need to replace any outgoing employees as you should have cover from your highly-skilled workforce. Your business should start by identifying any particular areas of the business where your workforce is significantly under-skilled, with only one or two employees capable of carrying out a task.
Once this has been completed, it’s worth carrying out internal training where possible, but in some cases, it may be worth having an external company train your workforce to industry standard. Don’t hesitate to begin the process of training your workers; the shortage of skilled workers is only going to get worse over the coming years, so it’s definitely advisable to begin your preparations as soon as possible.
Optimise existing processes
If you are almost certainly going to be hit by the changes coming in the next few years, it could be worth reviewing your internal processes to see if there are more efficient workarounds that could be employed when workers inevitably leaving your business. This could mean that you may need to also review any software or technical equipment that your business uses on a regular basis – but the hard work will be worth it in the end.
By employing this tactic, you can expect to save some money on staffing costs too, by becoming more efficient, you will inevitably require fewer workers within your ranks to carry out day-to-day tasks.
In the current climate, it’s absolutely essential to invest in the next generation of construction, engineering and manufacturing professionals and ensure they are given on the job training. If you do start an apprenticeship scheme within your business, you can help mould a young person into exactly the type of employee you would like to hire in the future. At the end of their course, there is a very good chance they will be eager to stay within your business, allowing you to have a fully-fledged employee who will understand the way your business operates inside out.