Unscrambling the Egg of Brexit

Abandoned Factory, by Dimi - Copy (2)
Abandoned Factory.  Courtesy of Dimi.

In the past year it has becoming abundantly clear that workforce trends are entwined with immigration, trade, and politics.  In the bold new world of globalization and technological change, older employees without degrees have been struggling with dis-employment and government neglect.  As voters, those same people have told us what they really think of the last two decades of leadership.  Employers are now stuck in a circular loop of unanticipated consequences.

The Brexit vote is causing labor shortages in Britain, according to this un-nerving and fascinating article from the Guardian.  After BRritain voted to EXIT (i.e. BREXIT) the European Union on June 23, 2016 some troubles have emerged.

As might be expected, foreigners working in Britain are nervous about being spoken down to and they are simply moving home.  Meanwhile those from European Union member states have somewhat stopped seeking jobs in Britain.  It is one thing for people born in Britain to vote that they don’t want foreigners taking their jobs.  It is quite another thing when the foreigners vote with their feet.

A recruitment drive to bring in nurses from Portugal saw half of nurses withdraw their applications right after the vote.  One large construction firm saw 4,000 staff not return to work after the recent Christmas break.  And the food services industry says it can’t recruit foreign chefs.

Some employers are hiring buses and renting housing to make transit and housing easier for their immigrant workforce.  But Britain already has a housing shortage, and turning things around could be difficult because 8% of the construction workforce is from abroad.  At least one major rail link project is dependent on foreign workers.  Individual employers are attempting to make housing and transit easier, but on the larger scale housing and transit could become worse.  It’s a vicious circle.

However, the main problem is the impact of the British currency.  In the year and a half prior to the Brexit vote the British pound had a value of about 1.3 to 1.4 Pounds per Euro.  The pound is now hovering at five-year lows, about 1.1 to 1.2 Pounds per Euro.  Immigrants send a lot of money back to their home country.  If the money they send home is worth 20% less, it defeats the purpose of working in the UK in the first place.

To top it all off, immigrants have a shorter commute if they simply choose to work in Germany.  People in Greece and Eastern Europe can get to Germany in a couple of hours and the trip is cheaper.

It’s a cautionary tale with many lessons.  Yes, other people should be more welcoming of people from all cultures, and be grateful for their contribution to the economy.  But what about us, as employers and business analysts and human resource leaders?  Have we been paying attention to who has been at the receiving-end of our reorganizations?  When we choose the very best candidate for a job, do we even talk to those we dropped from the first cut?  We weren’t thinking about these people a year ago.  But they have our attention now, don’t they?

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