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Brexit one month on – is the recruitment world struggling?

Early statistics could be failing to reflect the effects of insecurity about the future of EU nationals in this country

Recruitment bosses have been pleasantly surprised that the employment market seems unaffected by Britain’s decision to exit the EU; however, early statistics could be failing to reflect the effects of insecurity about the future of EU nationals in this country, particularly in sectors heavily reliant on their labour.

In the immediate wake of Brexit, CEB consultancy published findings indicative of a downturn in the recruitment market, with online vacancies numbering only half the total this time last year. This would see a decline of around 700,000 vacancies – a seriously pessimistic vision.

The CIPD reported that many recruiters see this figure as a worst-case scenario. It has statistics to back this up, with CV Library reporting vacancies up 11% on last quarter. The chairman of Reed, James Reed, has declared the situation surprisingly good, with an 8% increase in jobs advertised post-referendum compared with the same period last year; additionally, 83% of Reed’s clients are not planning to decrease their usual recruitment drive in response to the referendum result.

The initial positive trends may prove deceptive, however, and may not reflect the real conversations taking place over the photocopier. The CIPD found that 58% of HR professionals felt Brexit would affect both recruitment and retention.

Fears about the future of EU nationals in this country coupled with economic uncertainty mean that some sectors particularly reliant either on EU labour or EU markets are increasingly pressured. Financial institutions are amongst the most likely to be affected, with JPMorgan’s chief executive Jamie Dimon predicting the relocation of around 4,000 of his workforce outside the UK.

NHS chief executive Stephen Dalton commented that many medical professionals will not wait to find out their new status under Article 50. Around 6% of NHS workforce are EU nationals and many of these could easily find work outside Britain rather than risk staying on uncertain terms.

Another sector at risk is higher education and research. Funding from EU sources could be lost, income from EU students would decline and Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society, has already started talking about a brain drain of talented academics away from the UK.

The IT consultancy Gartner has warned that losses could be sustained in the technology market if the UK becomes less attractive to EU migrants; indeed, there is evidence that online searches for jobs outside the UK have outstripped those looking for work here. Many see this as an ominous reversal of the status quo, which customarily sees the UK being a sought-after employment destination.

The economic consequences of Brexit, in particular the depreciation of the pound, have similarly been cited as a reason for EU migrants to stay away. John Hardman of HOPS Labour Solutions has pointed to this factor to explain why food manufacturing services may be disrupted, with seasonal fruit and vegetable pickers now able to earn more elsewhere.

There is always a silver lining. The uncertainty of the current atmosphere has given a boost to the temping market and also to contractors; in addition, the implementation of Brexit itself will no doubt create many new vacancies as companies and services seek to negotiate the new political landscape.

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