SMEs set sights on global talent pool

With a dip in EU citizens coming to the UK, a growing number of SMEs are setting their sights on the global talent pool

With Brexit on the horizon, one of the main concerns for businesses is the availability of workers. However, current restrictions intended to limit net UK migration could be holding some back as the monthly cap on non-EU workers is being reached.

It is anticipated that there will be some changes to immigration in the future, and while the government has provided some reassurances about the status of EU workers after Brexit, significant areas of uncertainty remain. For many employers the worst-case scenario is that EU workers will be treated the same way as non-EU workers, which will increase administration and require them to provide more support with visa applications.

But for businesses looking to recruit highly-skilled workers this period of uncertainty is encouraging them to start looking beyond the confines of the EU for the first time.

Multinationals and larger corporates have historically gained access to a global talent pool through inter-company transfers. For SMEs, however, the recruitment focus to date has been on the EU because of the ease of freedom of movement.

Looking ahead, SMEs across a range of sectors may need to adapt their approach to recruitment. As well as attracting EU-based talent, they may wish to widen the net to recruit skilled workers from countries such as Asia, Africa and other parts of the world. If they have a specific need for low-skilled workers, due to seasonal demand for example, they may also need to consider how to fill this employment gap.

While looking further afield sounds like a good idea, some businesses are being restricted because of current limits on net migration. It is possible that the current cap on non-EU worker migration (which is set at 20,700 per annum) could be raised in the future to compensate for any reduction in the number of EU workers coming to the UK. If these restrictions are lifted, even temporarily, businesses ready to attract and recruit talent from overseas after Brexit could gain a competitive advantage.

With this in mind, it is important for employers to be as prepared as possible by putting in procedures to assist in the recruitment of non-EU workers and exploring alternative recruitment channels. Employers that rely on access to seasonal, low-skilled labour will need to consider how to fill this employment gap. Without freedom of movement it could be necessary to recruit more British workers into such positions, which may involve recruiting more part-time workers, and procedural and administrative changes.

Global mobility is increasingly being viewed as an opportunity for all employers, not just the big corporates. By being prepared and putting in the right level of support now, small and medium-sized businesses can gain access to a wider talent pool and be ready to act quickly once the detail of any transition plan is known.

Paula Nettleton is senior manager in global mobility and tax advisory services at Menzies