‘Access to talented and creative people is to modern business what access to coal and iron ore was to steelmaking.’
Migration. Sovereignty. Uncertainty. These are the words that have come to symbolise the referendum campaign. Now that Brexit is no longer a possibility but a reality, there is one issue that has not received enough airtime or debate.
What is it? Simple. How will the UK access, attract and retain a talented workforce? This question will directly impact the UK startup scene, big businesses and govern the way in which the UK develops in future years.
Much of the polemic around the UK’s membership of the EU has been focused on the need to restrict the inflow of immigrants. However, what does this mean for the many UK businesses which employ EU migrants and rely heavily on international talent for the technological skills the UK may lack?
A UCL study often quoted by the remain side says that European migrants made a net contribution of £20bn between 2000 – 2011, paying far more taxes than being claimed in welfare. In addition to this, immigrants are more likely that Brits to set up their own businesses. However the positive impact of European immigrants on the training environment of UK nationals in work was not mentioned in the study. The UK has a void in technology, construction and engineering skilled workers, a void only being filled by the vital knowledge shared between nationals and immigrants. This will become impossible when we invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty and restrict freedom of movement, freedom to attract skilled works. According to a 2016 report by TechNation, a significant proportion of tech and digital businesses across the UK’s key cities for innovation still see the ‘limited talent supply’ as one of the key challenges they face in stagnating development.
The alternative for businesses who depend on this knowledge sharing? To outsource it. If the knowledge sharing and development doesn’t happen in the UK, it will happen elsewhere. Many argue that the international knowledge sharing seen in UK is the main driver for the FinTech industry’s success in London. It is clear that the tech sector in the UK will face a considerable uncertainty, costing us the best talent and preventing the UK from progressing at the same rate as our European, Asian and American counterparts.
Furthermore, The UK’s melting pot of international and diverse founders, employees, investors, consultants, mentors and advisors from EU jurisdictions, bring their perspectives, expertise and cultural market insights to the fore. This has undoubtedly been a factor in the rise of the UK’s tech and digital business sector. Now that Britain has chosen to leave the EU, the ways in which the UK could develop a tailored immigration framework to ensure access to talent is facilitated, or remedy the skill shortage by other means will now be discussed. This will hopefully ensure that the melting pot does not become frozen.
The traditional way for international talent to seek work post-Brexit, would be through a tier 2 visa, as non-EU nationals did when we were part of the EU. However, we know from experience that the extension of tier 2 visas would create a lengthy process that may put individuals off from applying in the first place. Although there has been significant press coverage about extending the point based system to EU nationals this it not a foregone conclusion.
Another way to remedy the skill gap in the future is to ensure that through better education the UK labour supply is able to boost the numbers of UK-born people in employment. However this change will take years to come into fruition and years to see the positive impact of. The only hope is to create an immigration framework, which is democratic in its selection of individuals from every country in the world, to ensure we have access to the individuals we need with the skills we need to flourish.