Andrew MacDougall: Why Brexit uncertainty could be bad for graduate business

graduate-attraction

Brexit has kicked up a cloud of uncertainty over Britain’s economy. With a timeline yet to be agreed for exit negotiations, and no common understanding as to what constitutes “Brexit”, students and graduate recruiters are unlikely to find clarity quickly. Adding to the difficulty is the upheaval in British politics, states Andrew MacDougall, Senior Executive Consultant, MSLGROUP UK. The muddle will, however, give students and graduate recruiters an opportunity to shape the outcome.

To GB, or not to GB: that is the question facing students and graduate recruiters as Britain suffers the slings and arrows of David Cameron’s Brexit misfortune. With Britain committed to leaving the European Union, will the country remain a beacon for the world’s brightest students and the businesses that hire them?

Unfortunately, a quick or clear answer is not in the offing. The shock decision to leave has kicked up a cloud of uncertainty over the British economy, one that will take years to clear through what are expected to be contentious multi-year exit negotiations with European partners. Even the timing of negotiations is yet to be agreed, with reports suggesting talks will not start until late into 2017. The exit discussions themselves will take another two years.

One thing is certain: the negotiations will not produce an outcome that resembles current circumstances.

What does this uncertainty mean for students and graduate recruiters?

To begin, students graduating in the next year will enter a slowing economy. Hiring managers surveyed in the wake of Brexit expressed caution with respect to new hires, with the existing complement of workers now expected to carry on while the terms of exit are clarified. Sectors like financial services are also musing openly about moving entire business lines out of Britain.

For their part, graduate recruiters have been put in a double bind: they are no longer certain of their supply of talent, just as they are unclear about what sectors of the British economy will be sparking demand post-Brexit. Will uncertainty mean more British graduates looking for opportunities abroad, with fewer foreign students coming to study? Will businesses looking for specific skills be fishing from a smaller talent pond at home, while needing visas for those from abroad?

It is hoped these matters will be resolved in Britain’s favour through deft negotiation, but the early returns are not promising.

The Europeans have been quick to fire shots across Britain’s bow, threatening an end to “passporting” rights for the City’s financial industry, while cities like Frankfurt, Dublin, Amsterdam and Paris aggressively pitch businesses looking for both certainty and world-class infrastructure. Seeking its own leverage, the new government of Theresa May has, for its part, been slow to guarantee the right of European Union nationals currently living in London. Meanwhile, both sides are hinting that established programmes, such as the Erasmus student exchange, are under threat. Graduates and recruiters risk becoming pawns in the great Brexit game.

Adding to the confusion is the change in policy as Theresa May stamps her imprimatur on government. Whether or not you agreed with it, the Cameron/ Osborne approach to the British economy was clearly defined. Just what Prime Minister May and new Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond have planned in areas like apprenticeships and university funding will not be fully known until the Treasury’s Autumn Statement.

While frustrating, the extended Brexit negotiation and government policy timelines present opportunities for students and graduate recruiters to influence government policy. The matching flux in the fortunes of Britain’s Labour Party are also an opportunity to shape the future.

If anything, the Brexit debacle has shown that no-one in government knows what is going to happen; all the more reason, then, for those with clear ideas – like students and graduate recruiters – to pitch in and make the best of the muddled result.

 

About Andrew MacDougall

Andrew is an experienced public affairs, media relations and communications professional with over 15 years' experience, including serving as Director of Communications to the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada. Most recently with MSLGROUP UK (part of Publicis Groupe) providing senior counsel to clients in a range of sectors (FMCG, property, professional services, finance) on corporate communications, communications planning, issues and crisis, speech writing, stakeholder relations, stakeholder communications, digital and social media strategy, and public affairs. Andrew is also a columnist for the Ottawa Citizen and a regular contributor to CBC.ca, Policy Options, and Policy Magazine.
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