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Brexit in the balance: opportunity for the recruitment industry

What will happen to the recruitment industry after Brexit? A strategic approach reveals significant opportunities amidst the uncertainty.

October 9, 2019

Strategic approaches to Brexit uncertainty reveal significant IT staffing opportunities

The 31st of October is nearly upon us, but while the U.K.’s future hangs in the balance, there is opportunity in the recruitment market to evolve and be better prepared whichever way the cards fall later this month.

Amidst the uncertainty and ambiguity Brexit poses, there are several emerging key trends gaining attention within the employment market. According to a report by Recruitment International, 61% of employers expressed worry about the impact of leaving the European Union (EU), with many firms already noticing a negative impact on their hiring strategies since the referendum in 2016.

Skills shortages

Research from The Open University found that three in five firms feel that the U.K.’s skills shortage worsened during 2017 and 2018. Additionally, as the country leaves the EU, 53% of U.K. businesses expect these problems to further deteriorate in the coming 12 months. In parallel, uncertainty about future visa arrangements and the “right to remain” for EU citizens has left many employers feeling concerned about access to international talent approaching and following Brexit.

In line with these trends, David Willett, corporate director at The Open University, supports the position that Brexit has worsened the employment landscape, with many employees choosing the safety of their existing roles over entering the active job seeker market.

“Essentially, we have a supply and demand issue, which is seeing employers pay more to recruit or plug gaps with temporary workers,” he said.

Decline in EU citizens moving to the U.K.

One study of recruitment agencies on LinkedIn, conducted by Onrec, reported that in the first quarter of 2018, 37% of surveyed recruiters saw a significant decrease in applicants for U.K.-based roles from some of the major EU member states.

Jon Addison, head of talent solutions at LinkedIn U.K., commented in 2018 that, ‘it’s clear that [Brexit] is one of the biggest factors impacting hiring strategies’. In line with his statement, 46% of respondents to the survey consider the impact to be ‘big’ or ‘huge’.

There will undoubtedly be further disruption to the makeup and movement within the traditional talent pool as the U.K. moves closer to officially exiting the EU. With overseas talent displaying a diminished interest in working in the U.K., this could pose real concern to the U.K. labour market and force a rethink of archetypal recruitment strategies. However, this change in landscape also creates opportunities for the recruitment industry.

Time to think beyond Brexit

It’s hard to escape the angst and uncertainty that Brexit has thrown at the employment market recently, but against this gloomy background, a strategic approach reveals opportunities. Alongside other factors like IR35 and digital disruption, the political and economic challenges surrounding Brexit create an exciting new chapter for the post-Brexit story. This chapter can produce an environment welcoming innovation, encouraging recruitment companies and employers alike to be more creative in their workforce planning strategies and empowering them to act now to think beyond Brexit.

According to REC’s annual Recruitment Industry Trends report for 2017 and 2018, the recruitment market is growing. The total industry turnover from permanent and contract placements during this time period reached £35.7 billion—an increase of 11% on the previous year, and on a healthy trajectory despite the noise posed by the referendum. Companies can make the most of the skills available to them in the U.K. and seize the opportunity posed by Brexit’s challenges.

Workforce planning

Although it is hard to predict the future, employers must plan and work in partnership with their recruitment suppliers to gain a competitive advantage. Addison commented in an interview with The HR Director that it will be important to ‘make informed decisions and plan to hire talent not just for the skills their business needs now, but that they will need in six to 12 months’ time’.


A study by the CIPD found that some employers are dialling back on training and development: 20% of employers said that leaving the EU caused them to reduce their training and skills development investment. Additionally, over 50% of employers surveyed stated that leaving the EU has had no impact on their investment at all. At a time when the talent pool is tight, upskilling is imperative to staying ahead. Upskilling now helps equip your business to navigate a more competitive external hiring landscape.

Brand elevation

The talent pool might be shrinking, but the marketing channels open to companies are expanding and greater than they’ve ever been. VHR’s divisional director and aviation recruitment specialist, Ryan Abbot, says ‘we need to shout louder’ to market our brands and appeal to a more diverse and geographically dispersed network. The CIPD also recommends enhancing brand strategy and internal benefits. This poses an opportunity for business leaders to forge an even stronger partnership with recruitment experts, moving the needle from simply sourcing CVs to truly pushing the boundaries of partnership by consulting and supporting the development of brand strategy.

Between now and then

Despite the challenges and lack of certainty Brexit poses, the overall picture in the recruitment industry remains positive and opportunistic. Profits are up, and despite the Brexit noise, so too are the spirits of the recruitment market. The LinkedIn Recruiter Sentiment survey found 71% of talent professionals feel ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ confident about their ability to recruit the right talent in the current market.

The industry is demonstrating its resilience, and the need for recruitment partnerships is greater than ever. Now, it remains to be seen if employers will shift their focus away from the perceived challenges and toward the opportunities created by thinking beyond Brexit.