In all likelihood, one way or another, within the next year we will have left the EU. Whilst the exact details of what the divorce agreement will look like are still largely unknown, one very likely outcome will be that foreign workers will find it significantly harder – or less attractive – to work in the UK. In December 2018 there were an estimated 2.27 million EU nationals working in the UK (Office for National Statistics). Of this number, it is likely that those who have been resident for more than 5 years will have the option to remain, should they so wish – although the final rules will not be known until the separation terms have been finalised.
One distinct possibility, though, is that either through statute or choice there will be far fewer EU citizens working in the UK over the forthcoming years.
The sectors likely to be most affected (in order of impact) are food & drink manufacture, warehousing, accommodation & hospitality, construction, retail and residential & social care (Migration Advisory Committee).
So, given this impending vacuum of suitably skilled and experienced labour in those sectors, how are we reacting? As an industry we know that the numbers for new apprenticeship starts are woefully low and well below the targets set a couple of years ago. According to Department for Education statistics, there were only 285,000 apprenticeship starts between August 2018 and March 2019, compared with 362,400 in 2016/17 and 346,300 in 2015/16.
At the same time, barely a week seems to pass without news of another independent training provider ceasing to exist. It seems obvious that for the UK to prosper in a post-Brexit environment we will need to be increasingly self-sufficient, and for that to happen we desperately need to be increasing our capacity in skills like manufacturing, warehousing, construction and hospitality – to name but a few.
Surely now is the time for our industry to lobby government even more loudly to address this issue, before the skills shortage becomes a crisis and tangibly restricts the UK’s future ability to prosper.Click on this text to edit it.