Jo Sellick: Will graduates save Britain from Brexit?

What role do businesses play when providing opportunities for graduates moving from overseas?

As the UK continues its Brexit negotiations, there is still a great deal of uncertainty about what it will mean for our economy and especially for the many industries that rely heavily on European workers. Hospitality, construction and healthcare are some of the most obvious sectors that spring to mind, but there are many others that are staffed by workers from the EU. While Theresa May has pledged to protect the rights of those EU nationals currently living and working in Britain, there is no certainty around exactly how this will look.

Moving overseas

A secondary concern is not just around the industries that attract EU workers, but those popular with British workers which are considering moving overseas, such as finance firms. The majority of international banks currently base their European headquarters in London, but in the past year, there has been a lot of discussion over whether they might move to Frankfurt and other key cities on the continent to retain access to the single market.

Morgan Stanley and Citigroup Inc are among those who have already chosen the German city as their new headquarters. This may well result in a shortfall of British talent in the finance sector, as staff move overseas along with their employers in order to secure the career prospects associated with working for the biggest names in the industry. This is particularly true of graduates in the finance sector, who could well decide to start their careers overseas and remain there indefinitely.

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s Resourcing and Talent Planning survey in 2017, approximately one-fifth of recruitment and talent professionals were already seeing increased cautiousness from hiring businesses. Three-fifths of organisations also said that there would be difficulty in recruiting senior and skilled employees during the next three years as a result of Brexit. So, what does this mean for the graduate market?

There are two ways of looking at the situation. Some experts argue that this could actually be beneficial for graduates, because roles will become available that were previously held by EU nationals who no longer work in the UK. Others suggest that the jobs market will become harder for graduates, as there will be fewer roles available when businesses, such as banks, take their headquarters out of the UK. A third element to factor in is the STEM skills gap that many employers are currently battling with, which could prove beneficial to graduates with the right qualifications to fill roles in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) sectors.

Opportunities for graduates

So, how can graduates maximise on the opportunities posed by Brexit and turn what might be a negative situation into a positive? Firstly, university leavers should take a look at the jobs market as a whole and identify areas where there might be a skills gap. They should begin by looking at specific sectors known to be popular with EU nationals and see whether vacancies are beginning to arise. These might not be sectors that graduates considered previously, but their transferable skills could be perfectly suited to these industries. Careers advisors will play a crucial role here and should keep abreast of any changes so that they are in a good position to guide students on the paths that are opening up.

Outside of Brexit, another area of opportunity is the ageing workforce in the UK. There is a lot of talk about the ageing population as a whole and the impact this will have on the British economy when a huge swathe of the population retires. There are likely to be vast skills gaps at the senior end of the market and this opens up new opportunities for those who are entering the market. Those who are savvy to these changes stand to benefit the most, as they can map out their career with these gaps in mind and train to fill them before they develop. Again, careers advisors would be wise to consider these potential areas too and create strong links with business leaders to keep abreast of succession planning trends.

What role do businesses play?

Employers stand to benefit a great deal from harnessing graduate talent. Those that are concerned about a gap in their workforce post-Brexit could find the answer lies right in front of them. The key will be collaborating with careers advisors and university leaders to help to shape the future workforce. Business leaders have a responsibility to take part in mentoring and training at university level, but also in colleges and schools while there is still plenty of time for students to learn and develop. Employers should consider their talent pipeline and if it looks like it is drying up, they should consider what action can be taken. Speaking to college and university course leaders about the types of skills being taught can be hugely beneficial to everybody involved and it would be encouraging to see this collaboration become the norm for future generations. Internships, work experience and mentoring all form part of this more collaborative approach to nurturing and forming the next generation of employees, and it pays dividends for employers in the long run, as they benefit from a skilled workforce that fits their needs.

As the nation looks ahead to Brexit, it can often feel like a situation that is out of anybody’s control. But there are measures that business leaders and graduates can take to help to shape the way our workforce – and wider economy – looks in the future. If this is done correctly, it can become positive, creating a workforce of home-grown talent that powers a thriving economy and helps to plug skills gaps, at the same time as creating new industries altogether.


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