With negotiations on Brexit and an analysis of EU migration underway, the anxiety surrounding them was always going to cascade from the political sphere into lines of business. What the agreement will look like is still being ironed out by ministers, but migratory restrictions are likely to take prominence – a timely concern in this age of digital transformation and its reliance on a global talent pool.
Let’s not forget Silicon Valley is knocking on the door too, hoovering up talent from across the globe with companies expanding their reach into new sectors. For generations, we’ve seen some big companies ruling their turf but software and technology have changed the game indefinitely, paving the way for digital-oriented outfits such as Amazon to de-throne industry leaders. Typified by the acquisition of Whole Foods and the launch of Amazon Wardrobe, this trend has ominous implications and established businesses must react quickly to an evolving landscape in which heritage doesn't guarantee success. Faced with such uncertainty, how can UK businesses ensure that they are prepared for potential workforce restrictions?
What should provide some comfort is that the answer is on our doorstep – existing talent that can fill the gap. Those that nurture and upskill their existing employees, giving them the digital skills they need to drive the business from within, will be best placed to prosper in an uncertain environment, regardless of the details of a final agreement.
With technological diversification set to dominate the future of the workplace over the next decade too, companies must also consider the changes as an opportunity to audit the skills they will need, and compare with those possessed by their current workforce.
With a Bank of England study predicting 15 million jobs will be lost to automation and robotics in the future, many roles created to oversee this transition, and the new ways of working which will follow, have not yet been dreamt of. As GE CEO Jeff Immelt has said, if you go to bed as an industrial company, you're going to wake up as a software company.
When you view business this way, it’s easy to see how dangerous complacency surrounding skills could be. With Jaguar Land Rover recently announcing it was hiring 5,000 new staff, with a fifth of those set to have roles in electrical or software engineering, it’s clear the business is already taking steps to evolve the cars we love into computers on wheels.
Businesses in a post-Brexit world must plan to future-proof their skills strategy and prepare for success in this new world today. So, what steps must be taken now?
Investing in existing employees to remain competitive is vital. Research from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has found the ratio of workers whose level of training is appropriately matched to their job has been depreciating since 2012. To avoid the skill disparities brought on by Brexit, companies must foster a working environment that looks inward to develop talent and make sure certain staff keep their skills up-to-date. This ensures they house the correct expertise under one roof.
As highlighted by the government’s Working Futures 2014-2024 report, the quantity of new talent entering the market is set to be insufficient to fill the roles which will become available. With jobs set to rise by 1.8 million in the next 10 years, businesses that are not ready to support their current workforces to take on new roles will be in trouble.
There are a variety of options that companies can explore to which bridge the gaps between 'learning' and 'doing'. Practice-based solutions which encourage people to apply theory give business leaders the confidence to invest with the assurance of a return. By uniting people around a common mission, fresh skills can be applied to every layer of an organization.
Demonstrating commitment to the development of staff members creates benefits well beyond the contributions of individuals too. Studies such as the CIPD’s investigation into productivity, for example, have found a clear positive correlation between training and productivity. Investment in staff is investment in your most powerful asset.
It’s also vital that we do more to grow the right skills throughout all stages of education – in graduates, secondary schools, and even early years education, we need to encourage a curiosity that could lead to further education in science, technology and maths (STEM) that will likely provide the foundation to fill that skills gap in the longer term.
With this renewed focus on re-training staff, and ensuring that public education includes syllabuses that promote STEM, it’s also an opportunity to encourage a diverse workplace. Critical to an organization’s ability to innovate and adapt, research from Harvard Business Review revealed that employees at companies with diverse leadership are 45% more likely to grow their market share and 70% more likely to capture a new market. Without casting a wide demographic net for the best talent, ensuring your team understands the end user and nurturing a culture where all voices are heard, businesses will struggle to take advantage of market opportunities and drive growth.
A more joined-up approach is needed to equip and develop the skills of both the current and next generations of the workforce. More must be done to attract skilled young people and engage the interests of current employees. Innovation is at the heart of this post-EU strategy. The UK’s innovation environment is built upon a rich heritage and culture of business excellence. The vote to leave the EU affects this status and it is therefore vital for businesses to invest in staff to protect this reputation and ensure the UK remains both a strong leader and an attractive destination for talent and investment.