Male manual workers face biggest employment risk post-Brexit

Around 3.7 million workers are employed in industries that will be ‘very highly exposed’ to post-Brexit trade barriers

Men in manual jobs with fewer qualifications are more likely to face employment risks due to post-Brexit trade barriers, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

In its new publication, The exposure of different workers to potential trade barriers between the UK and the EU, the IFS warned that men with GCSE qualifications or below employed in certain manual occupations are more likely to work in industries at risk from new barriers to trade with the European Union (EU) after Brexit.

Almost 20% of men with low levels of formal qualifications work in industries that are very highly exposed to increased trade barriers with the EU, compared with 15% of highly-educated men and less than 10% of highly-educated women.

Workers in certain regions could also be affected more, the IFS said, with men with fewer qualifications in Northern Ireland and the West Midlands likely to be particularly affected.

The research also found that 14% of workers (equivalent to 3.7 million workers) are employed in very highly-exposed industries, meaning they would lose more than 5% of their value added if trade was under World Trade Organization rules post-Brexit.

Workers in process, plant and machine operative occupations face particular risks, with 29% of these workers being employed in very highly-exposed industries. The IFS warned that these workers tend to be older and more likely to have skills specific to their roles and industries, meaning they may struggle to find alternative employment.

Agnes Norris Keiller, co-author of the report and a research economist at the IFS, said barriers to trade with the EU will affect certain sectors more than others.

“If barriers to trade with the EU increase, particularly the sort of ‘non-tariff’ barriers created by customs checks and regulatory divergence, then some sectors of the economy will be affected more than others. Parts of the manufacturing sector are likely to be hardest hit. As a result the jobs or wages of men with low formal qualifications working in certain manual occupations may be under particular threat,” she said.

Keiller added that this group of workers will struggle to find equally well-paid work elsewhere when job losses occur.

“These are the sorts of workers who are most likely to find it hard to adapt and to find new roles that are equally well-paid elsewhere,” she said.

The IFS investigated which industries, regions and types of workers would be most and least affected by increased barriers to trade with the EU under different Brexit scenarios. The scenarios consider both potential new tariffs and higher non-tariff barriers (such as customs checks). The research was funded by the ESRC’s UK in a Changing Europe initiative.