As of 1st January 2020, the United Kingdom has officially left the European Union with new controls being imposed on workers and businesses employing from the EU.

One of the many predicted implications of this change is on the labour market and challenges in securing a resilient workforce. In December 2019, it was estimated by the Labour Force Survey (LFS) that there were an estimated 2.34 million EU nationals working in the UK and an estimated 1.36 million non-EU nationals working in the UK – approximately 7% of the total workforce.

How Brexit might affect your workforce

Many plans are currently in place to attract “the brightest and best” from the EU based on earnings and skills thresholds. However, these are likely to be limited in the short-term due to COVID. It is worth considering what is likely to happen with the abundance of lower-paid roles in key sectors which will fall through the gaps of these immigration requirements.

Following our own research into the security sector and wider labour workforce, these are just some of our predictions of the challenges which may be faced:

Labour shortages

It’s estimated, in 2019 over 29% of the EU national in the workforce were considering returning to the continent for their future employment opportunities, in addition to the many who will fall short of the requirements for the right to work in the UK. It is predicted this will leave a significant shortfall of largely “low-skilled” and low-paid roles – particularly in the social work, hospitality, manufacturing, cleaning, agriculture, and security industries. There are fears these shortages in labour will further increase following the official Brexit deadline, causing disruption throughout many supply chains.

Skills shortages

Many trade unions and industry officials across key sectors are raising the issue of a lack of a trained workforce. According to the University of Cambridge, many engineering, science and hi-tech firms are reporting difficulties in recruiting due to a lack of sufficient talent within STEM. In manufacturing particularly, ¾ of firms are reported to have struggled to hire the talent needed over the last 4 years. “There are issues around the quality of candidates, with 67% saying that candidates lack the right technical skills, 61% saying candidates lack industry experience and 33% saying a lack of relevant qualifications. However, there is also an availability issue, with 64% of companies saying they are struggling to recruit due to an insufficient number of applicants.” (The Manufacturers Organisation).

Increased labour costs

In the case of many of these lower-paid, “lower-skilled” roles it has become apparent many businesses may have been exploiting cheaper labour costs by recruiting from outside the UK. UK “homegrown” workers will expect not just higher rates of pay, but also more fulfilment and satisfaction in their roles. The Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board said that the problem was the “desirability of these roles within a competitive labour market.” Simply put, many British people do not want to undertake these roles, formerly held by EU nationals.

Increases in workplace bullying

Since the vote in 2016, leading up to the pivotal 1st January 2021″Brexit” Day, police, workplaces and even schools have reported increases in targeted bullying, harassment and racism towards citizens from the EU, or with EU heritage. Many are predicting this will increase in the months immediately after the official date, with new policies, policies and extra vigilance being applied to tackle this and make workers feel safe.

Increases in bureaucracy

The changes brought by Brexit affect settled status for those who have already lived in the UK long-term, creating the need for visas for those planning on working in the UK in the future. Some sectors will have more limitations than others, such as affecting the validity of industry licenses or additional licensing and qualifications – e.g., SIA security licenses. With this, there will be an increasing need for auditing and tracking of licenses as well as the right to work permits requirements to have a right to work in the UK for compliance.

As well as the “lower-skilled” workforce, it is estimated 17% of the EU nations working in the UK were within the Higher Education sector, with many other highly paid and highly skilled workers across other sectors. Consideration needs to be given to whether they will see the value in going through the effort of the UK red-tape, costly visas, (and potential harassment) when they could seek similar opportunities throughout the EU.

Increased labour safety risks

Given all the above, some businesses and subcontractors may be reluctant to overlook skills, qualifications and necessary licensing or accreditations just to fill a labour gap or avoid paying higher labour costs. This puts these companies and their broader supply chain in a vulnerable position, open to potential risk and threat.

What you can do to safeguard labour in your business

Preparation is the best mindset to have when navigating these new controls and protocols. These are our top tips for safeguarding your workforce after Brexit:

  • Making sense of government guidance and new processes is an obvious place to start. Not only making sense of it but querying any concerns or confusion you might have with relevant authorities to ensure you’re not only fully understanding but fully compliant.
  • Forecasting potential labour needs or shortfalls, giving more than enough time for adequate recruitment with thorough due diligence.
  • Allocating sufficient time for the increased administration throughout the recruitment process for any EU nationals.
  • Enforce resilient auditing and administration for any of the workforces from the EU to track work permits, visas, settled status as well as any additional training required for compliance.
  • Deliver diversity education within the workforce to promote an inclusive working culture and a safer working environment.
  • Work with local schools, colleges, and universities to nurture the next generation of workforce, creating long-term interest in your sector e.g., through training schemes, apprenticeships, and vocational courses as an alternative to traditional university degrees, plugging the skills gap.

This is new for employees and businesses alike. For the best results, it’ll pay to be patient, kind, empathetic and organised. The new controls and procedures are here to stay so we must find means to work with them, not against them, incorporating them into our recruitment and HR duties.

We would like to denote, we have used “lower-skilled” in quote marks, only to replicate the terminology used throughout government documents. We believe all roles have levels of skill and value. In our view, lower pay does not necessarily mean lower-skilled.


House of Lords Economic Committee – Brexit and the Labour Market

Centerpiece – Brexit and the Labour Market

CIPD – Workforce Trends

Employment Studies – Brexit Observatory Labour Market

UK Parliament – Defence, Security & Immigration

ONS Migration Statistic Quarterly