Fears are growing that the UK’s exit from the European Union (EU) will make it harder for IT companies to attract staff with the right skills, as it becomes a challenge to retain existing staff from the EU.
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According to a report from Deloitte, 47% of highly skilled workers from the EU who are currently working in the UK are considering leaving in the next five years – and 15% are planning to leave in the next 12 months.
The figures include people who would have left regardless of Brexit, but this does not make the problem any easier as these employees will have to be replaced, which will be more challenging if free movement of labour ends.
The UK government must make recruitment of EU nationals as frictionless as possible if free movement ends, and invest in education and training. If 47% of highly skilled EU workers do decide to leave, there will be a huge IT skills gap, which post-Brexit rules could make it harder to fill.
Training UK citizens is vital. The survey found that 70% of highly skilled workers in the UK believe if would be difficult or very difficult to fill their role with a UK national.
David Sproul, CEO for Deloitte North West Europe, said overseas professionals still see the UK as an attractive place to work, with 87% saying they would consider moving here. But more of those already in the UK are getting itchy feet. “Overseas workers, especially those from the EU, tell us they are more likely to leave the UK than before,” said Sproul.
This would lead to a skills shortage that would take time to fill, he added. “It could be filled in the long term in part by upskilling our domestic workforce, but also from an immigration system that is attuned to the needs of the economy.”
For example, the UK could increase the number of workers from outside the UK and the EU to bridge the gap. The number of IT workers from India in the UK already outstrips the number of EU nationals working in UK IT.
But this could prove unpopular because anti-immigration rhetoric played a big role in the Brexit referendum. Campaigners against UK corporates using Indian IT workers to try to reduce costs have pushed the government to close a loophole in the migration system that allows Indian IT suppliers with a presence in the UK to bring staff into the country to work on customer sites.
The Intra Company Transfer system enables thousands to enter the UK, and successive governments have done little to reduce this. According to figures from the Home Office, 36,015 non-EU IT workers came to the UK in 2016, most of them from India, compared with 23,960 in 2012.
Deloitte’s findings are backed up by a survey released by recruitment firm Hired last month. It found that the number of candidates from outside the UK who are willing to accept offers for UK tech roles has fallen by nearly 20% since the EU referendum.
Leaving the EU is also a concern for UK IT startups, many of which rely on skills from EU nations. There are also hubs across Europe that are eager to attract startups and staff that might be put off the UK post-Brexit.
Meanwhile, multinational businesses might decide to move their operations to other countries where staff are available, such as delivery hubs in places like Bangalore, India, or in other EU countries.