Brexit: People – How can employers attract and retain the best talent?

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The overall pool of candidates who are free from immigration restrictions will be smaller from January 2021, when free movement for European nationals ends.  In addition, with an ever increasing focus on technology and automation, UK businesses are likely to need highly skilled individuals with STEM backgrounds, who may be in short supply.

Given the inevitable increase in competition for the best people, now is the time to think about recruitment practices and incentivising existing staff.  Here are four things we are seeing businesses concentrate on in their HR strategy planning:

  1. A focus on long-term flexible working – not only in the sense of working from home (which looks set to be the default for many roles, for some time), but also in working hours and practices, to fit around other commitments. Many employers have been implementing new flexible working policies, to give more choice to employees about when, where and how they work. In doing this, thought should be given to how performance will be monitored and service levels maintained.  We are also increasingly seeing employers permitting employees to “work from anywhere”. Such practices could attract international candidates who intend to stay overseas and carry out the role remotely – but be aware that there will be implications in terms of tax, immigration status and employment rights to consider.
  1. Re-thinking business values and culture – there’s no doubt that we are seeing a greater push for businesses to be purposeful in their ethical and social commitments, which we considered in our article on stakeholder engagement. Initiatives relating to the environment, sustainability and ethical working practices are now a must for many individuals when searching for an employer, so it’s important to know what your business’ message is.  It’s also essential to have genuine equality and diversity practices in place, with many businesses now opting to publish diversity data and taking steps to address under-representation, such as signing up to the Race at Work Charter.  Businesses that have a clear vision, which employees believe in and can contribute to, are likely to stand out to candidates.
  1. Consider applying for a sponsor licence – If you want to also look outside of the UK workforce to recruit skilled individuals, now is the time to apply for a sponsor licence. The government is actively encouraging businesses to do so in preparation for the end of free movement for European nationals from 1 January 2021.  There are already over 31,500 UK registered sponsor licence holders, but it’s likely that many more businesses will be making applications in the coming months.  For employers who already have a licence, there are still significant changes to the immigration rules from next year, for you to get to grips with.  While the aim of the new rules is to streamline some aspects of the points based system, it should be noted that there are still prescriptive requirements about who is eligible for sponsorship, stringent duties on sponsors and significant costs involved.
  1. Investing in people, through training and apprenticeships – the provision of training courses should serve to encourage better performance and productivity, but it also signals a long term commitment to developing your people. This could lead to more internal promotions, giving employees the opportunity to progress in their careers and boosting staff retention rates.  In addition, offering apprenticeships to encourage junior entrants, particularly in roles which focus on the development of technology, can assist with filling skills gaps.  Now is the time to get a plan for apprenticeships in place, particularly as the government has increased incentive payments for apprentices hired between 1 August 2020 and 31 January 2021.

Once you have a talented workforce, how do you ensure your business is protected in the event that people move on?  In the next Brexit: People publication we will consider how you can protect your business’ interests and confidential information, including how and when restrictions on competition might be used.