Sam Sprules: Brexit – the effect on recruitment for the aviation industry

Airplane

The aviation industry – which largely taps into an international workforce – is set to be one of the most profoundly affected by this referendum. Not least because of the recruitment implications.

One of the most regularly cited reasons to leave the EU has been to end the country’s adherence to one of the trade bloc’s key tenets; the free movement of people. Foreign-born workers are an integral part of the aviation industry, comprising 22% of the total industry workforce (ONS), with higher concentrations among cabin crews and manual maintenance or logistical workers.

The UK aviation industry has proven progressive in terms of employing a foreign-born workforce in order to alleviate the strain caused by well-documented skills shortage. This has enabled the UK aviation industry to gain versatility and dynamism compared to more restrictive domestic job markets, such as in France and Spain.

The UK market has proven the pull of its gravitas as part of the EU, tempting the best and brightest in the industry to ply their trade within our borders. This rich mix of skills is a major contributing factor to the UK’s status as among the best-equipped aviation authorities in the world.

Leaving the EU would undoubtedly raise question marks for industry bosses, as well as the highly-trained staff on whom they rely, including:

  • Could the UK conceivably end all semblance of the free movement of people on exiting the EU? Or, would some concessions need to be granted in order to assure the favourability of trade negotiations?
  • In an international industry such as aviation, to what extent would a revocation of the right to live and work make employment in the UK a less enticing opportunity for prospective pilots, cabin crew and maintenance staff?
  • How would candidate options be affected if aviation staff transferred into other markets?
  • If the freedom of movement of people were no longer in effect, would the UK look to secure an intermediary agreement for aviation staff to replace the transit visa? Or, would such staff be subject to stringent visa regulations (such as the C1D visa in the US)?
  • To what extent would this additional red tape put off airline staff from including the UK on their preferred working routes?
  • What value would an EASA licence continue to hold without the freedom of movement associated with UK passports at present?

The growth of the UK aviation industry has been enhanced by over 20 years of especially beneficial access to the free market and a continent-wide pool of skilled workers. This has provided UK airlines with the scope to set up in countries that have low labour costs, and to operate from any EU location without limitations on pricing, flight frequency or capacity. Countries such as Spain and France have gone to great lengths to protect their national workforces regardless of industry requirements, while the UK has witnessed stellar results by taking a pragmatic approach to the employment of foreign nationals. The vote for Brexit would undoubtedly place new limitations on the influx of skilled staff.

So given the result, aviation businesses need to be agile and ready to adapt and respond to this dramatically changed environment when it comes to recruitment.

About Sam Sprules

With more than 12 years’ experience in the aviation HR and the recruitment industry, Sam leads a team of professional consultants who provide strategic HR advice and people solutions to airlines worldwide. Sam’s in-depth knowledge of cross border engagement, aviation skills, and large scale recruitment enables him to provide specialist industry insight, as well as comment on a range of issues affecting the HR and recruitment industry as a whole. Sam’s strong flair for business and sales saw him promoted to Director at AeroProfessional in 2013.

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